A 1996 law here in Michigan gave the drug industry the immunity their lobbyists wanted – complete imunnity for prescription drugs here in Michigan. Since then, Michigan residents have had no ability to hold pharmaceutical manufacturors of drugs like Avandia, Celebrex, fen phen and others including Vioxx/Merck Co. who just agreed to pay $4.85 billion dollars to settle lawsuits over what some have called the most dangerous drug ever to have been released upon the American public.
It was a pretty straightforward case of consumer deception. Evidence from the pending lawsuits against Merck and their drug Vioxx clearly demonstrated that they knew of the health risks of Vioxx as far back as March, 2000. Even more damning to Merck was evidence showing a deliberate effort on their part to bury the evidence that Vioxx created significant risk of heart disease.
On Nov. 1, 2004, the eastern edition of The Wall Street Journal broke the story: “Warning Signs: Emails Suggest Merck Knew Vioxx’s Dangers at Early Stage,” discrediting Merck’s feigned ignorance of Vioxx’s cardiovascular risks. According to a memo dated Nov. 21, 1996, Merck officials first “wrestled” with the issue of Vioxx’s dangerous effects in 1996 when they considered running a trial to demonstrate that Vioxx is gentler on the digestive system than other painkillers, like aspirin. Officials feared that the study would also reveal Vioxx’s cardiovascular risk because the subjects of course would not be able to avoid the risk by taking aspirin. The controversy continued into 1997, when Merck official Briggs Morrison sent an email dated Feb. 25, 1997, arguing that, unless test subjects received aspirin, the revealed cardiovascular risks would “kill [the] drug.”
Now, let’s examine Merck’s concerns for a moment: Based on leaked ducuments, Merck officials knew that Vioxx posed cardiovascular risk as early as 1996 and, yes, they were worried about it, because if it were revealed, the risk might decrease sales. In response to Morrison’s email, Alise Reicin, who is now Merck’s vice president for clinical research, emailed that the company was in a “no-win situation” and proposed that people with high risk of cardiovascular problems be excluded from the story, so that the difference between the rate of cardiovascular problems associated with Vioxx and other drugs “would not be evident.”
The largest smoking gun in the evidence unearthed by attorneys for the families of those injured and killed by Vioxx was a communication between Merck’s patent department and Merck researchers. Buried in the documents, was an admission by Merck researchers that
Vioxx increases the risk of potentially fatal cardiovascular disease by reducing the body’s production of a substance called prostacyclin, which prevents platelet coagulation. This reduction may alter the ratio of prostacyclin to thromboxane, a substance which can constrict blood vessels, resulting in excessive blood clotting, and, consequently, heart attacks and strokes — the very disorders that Merck denies Vioxx promotes.
What does this mean for Michigan citizens who were injured by this drug? Well, thanks to Lobbyists from Merck and other pharmaceutical giants, the 1996 law which grants to drug companies completele immunity in Michigan, these individuals and families will never get their day in court and may never share in the $4.85 billion dollar Vioxx settlement. Is this fair? Hell no.
If this kind of lawmaking which was enacted by your Representative and Senator and protects their corporate donors at the expense of people like you and me, upsets you, let your Senator and Representative know about it. Next time their is an election, call them up and ask them how they plan to vote on the currently proposed law which will do away with drug company immunity here in Michigan. Let them know that you won’t stand for Michigan being the only state in the nation with this type of blanket immunity for drug companies. Let them know you VOTE.
For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Drugs, Medical Devices and Implants.
Mr. Smith has practiced as a trial attorney since graduating Notre Dame Law School in 1992. He has litigated cases across the country including cases from Ventura County, California to Middlesex County, New Jersey. He practices in both State and Federal courts.