Deadliest Recalls in History: Vioxx Arthritis Medication

Until it was yanked from the market in 2004, Vioxx was one of the most prescribed arthritis medications. Former FDA official Dr. David Graham called the drug a disaster “unparalleled in the history of the history of the United States” in his testimony before Congress. What happened?

Vioxx was a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (or NSAID) that seemed like a miracle for arthritis sufferers. It had fewer digestive side effects compared to ibuprofen and helped reduce symptoms of pain and swollen joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Unfortunately for patients who took the drug, there was a dark side to Vioxx. The drug dramatically increased risk for heart attack and stroke, especially after long-term use. Experts estimate that the drug caused 140,000 heart attacks and 60,000 deaths. A study revealed that the drug more than tripled the risk of a heart attack within the first weeks of taking Vioxx.

Drug company Merck recalled Vioxx in 2004 and settled class-action lawsuits worth $4.65 billion.