A group of Italians are filing a class action lawsuit in the U.S. Monday, seeking damages after suffering heart attacks and strokes they say were caused by the Vioxx painkiller.

Kenneth B. Moll, an American lawyer who is helping file the complaint in Louisiana, said that 18 Italians are seeking damages from Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK), the U.S. pharmaceutical company that manufactured and marketed the drug.

Several studies have shown that Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory drug, increases drastically the risk of serious cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes.

An estimated 24 million people worldwide have been prescribed Vioxx and Merck is already facing thousands of lawsuits from customers in the U.S.

Merck, based in New Jersey, announced in September that it was pulling Vioxx off the market in the U.S. and other countries after a study showed it doubled the risk of cardiovascular diseases in patients taking the drug for more than 18 months.

The Italian complaint is being submitted to U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon in New Orleans, who is overseeing all the federal Vioxx cases in the U.S. and handling all pretrial proceedings.

The judge has to certify the complaint as a class action before a trial can begin.

One of the group of Italians, a 68-year-old cardiologist Giovanni Scibilia, told reporters in Rome that he took Vioxx for almost a month and suffered two heart attacks.

“The reason I link the attacks to Vioxx is the timing,” he said. “I used to jog and swim before I was prescribed the drug, and after four days of treatment I had the first heart attack.”

Moll said the class action allows other Italians who claim to have suffered illness after taking Vioxx to join the case without having to file separate lawsuits.

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