“All the Justice Money Can Buy” – the Merck Vioxx story that can’t be forgotten

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All the Justice Money Can BuyI finally read Snigdha Prakash’s book, “All the Justice Money Can Buy: Corporate Greed on Trial,” about some of the lawsuits brought by people who alleged they were injured by Merck’s painkiller Vioxx, which, according to some estimates, caused up to 140,000 cases of heart disease and up to 56,000 deaths over five years.

I’m usually not a “can’t put this down” kind of book reader, but Prakash – in her first book – glued me to the story with great skill. She won the Gene Roberts Book Award by the Fund for Investigative Journalism for her work on the book.

My yellow highlighter grabbed this excerpt from late in the book:

“Why isn’t this Tuskegee?” (Harlan) Krumholz (Yale cardiologist) demanded, comparing Merck’s decision to keep testing Vioxx on Alzheimer’s patients after it was know that Vioxx was hurting them to the infamous syphilis studies in Tuskegee, Alabama.

The epilogue to the story, as Prakash reports, is that the federal multidistrict litigation against Merck ended in a settlement:

“Merck would pay $4.85 billion to resolve some 50,000 claims. …

Payouts to heart attack plaintiffs ranged, on average, from just under $100,000 to $375,000.”  …

…the deal’s biggest winner was Merck.  The company would put almost all the Vioxx personal injury cases behind it for just under $5 billion.  Add in legal expenses of roughly $2 billion, and the total tab of $7 billion was still a far cry from the $25-50 billion in liability that investment analysts had predicted right after the Vioxx withdrawal.  …The plaintiffs’ lawyers also fares well, receiving 32% of their clients’ settlement awardx or more than $1.55 billion in fees plus “reasonable” expenses. …

It would take Merck less than a year to earn back the $4.85 billion it had agreed to pay Vioxx plaintiffs. …

“We ended up settling for something that was not reasonable.  We were not happy,” (one plaintiff’s wife) said.  …

“When you seek justice at this level, it becomes less about the plaintiff and more about the money.  Somebody won big…but it wasn’t us,”  (the plaintiff) said.

On her website, Prakash posted an old Daily Show clip about one of the trials (below).  Whether by parody or by book, this is a chapter in drug company history that cannot be told often enough and can not be forgotten.

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Ken Leebow

February 15, 2012 at 9:45 am

Constant and ongoing reminders to try to stay off meds … if you can.

Trite, but true … Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food. – Hippocrates

BTW, here’s a really funny Big-Phrama rant by Bill Maher … http://bit.ly/wNagw1 – Every time I watch it, it makes me laugh … mad too.

Joy Simha

February 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm


Thank you so much for this coverage. It all makes sense now!

Joy Simha