Merck Agrees to $58M Settlement Over Vioxx Ad Claims

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Merck & Co. is paying $58 million as part of a multistate settlement concerning advertising of the now-withdrawn painkiller, Vioxx.

The settlement announced Tuesday addresses allegations that Merck's advertising deceptively downplayed the health risks of Vioxx. New Jersey-based Merck is not admitting any wrongdoing under the settlement.

The settlement ends investigations by 29 states and the District of Columbia into Merck's advertising practices involving Vioxx.

The settlement also calls for Merck to submit all new TV commercials for its drugs to the FDA for review.

Vioxx was taken off the market in 2004 after research showed it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Kansas Attorney General Steve Six Tuesday filed a stipulated judgment with Merck and Company as part of the investigation's resolution.

"While this money will help increase consumer education and enforcement of our Consumer Protection Act, I'm particularly pleased with the additional protections that will restrict Merck's ability to use deceptive advertising and promotions," Six said.

The states' Attorneys General expressed concerns regarding the negative effects of DTC advertising immediately following the release of a new drug. It is suggested that advertising could be delayed while doctors have a chance to gain experience with the drug and understand its potential side effects.

"Merck's aggressive early promotion of Vioxx drove hundreds of thousands of consumers to seek prescriptions before Vioxx's risks were fully understood," Six said.

"This agreement gives the FDA clear discretion and authority to oversee Merck's advertising practices in order to protect consuemrs across the country."

Other concerns of the states are either prohibited or curtailed in the judgment including:
-deceptive use of scientific data when marketing to doctors,
-"ghost writing" of articles and studies,
-failing to adequately disclose the conflict of interest of Merck promotional speakers when these speakers present in supposedly "independent" Continuing Medical Education,
-conflicts of interest in Merck sponsored Data Safety Monitoring Boards

Kansas will receive $1.2 million which will be used to enhance the consumer protection enforcement fund and consumer education throughout the state.

Consumers wanting more information about this settlement and Kansas consumer protection in general may call (800) 432-2310 or visit www.ksag.org.


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