Recalls in History: Vioxx Scandal


One of the most major recalls in recent memory occurred in 2004, when drug manufacturer Merck issued a recall for Vioxx.

Vioxx was a drug created to combat arthritis, though it turned out to have incredibly dangerous side effects.

A class action suit levied against Merck turned up rather damning evidence that the manufacturer was aware that patients taking the drug were at higher risk of a “cardiac event.” Research found that Vioxx may have been responsible for over 27,000 heart attacks and unexpected cardiac-related deaths.

The Vioxx Recall

Vioxx was authorized for sale in the US by the FDA in 1999. It was sold until 2004, when Merck suddenly voluntarily recalled the product. Internal research as well as numerous reports from outside researchers and anecdotes from patients taking the medicine indicated some troubling findings. Vioxx, whether Merck acknowledged it or not, was increasing patients’ risk for heart attacks.

In September 2004, Merck contacted the FDA to inform them of a voluntary recall of the medication to get out ahead of public opinion. In the immediate aftermath of the recall, many commentators expressed concerns that Merck might not survive the ensuing lawsuits and class actions.

Legal Battles

The court battles that followed were lengthy and frustrating for plaintiffs. Merck managed to defeat seventeen of the first twenty suits filed against them in relation to Vioxx deaths, and, in the end, settled for comparatively little money. A class action suit was settled with incredibly strict guidelines for who could claim damages, including requiring receipts and evidence of Vioxx being taken within 14 days of a fatal cardiac event.

Emerging somewhat unscathed, Merck surprised the industry with its handling of the potentially-disastrous recall. Despite pressure from consumers and lawmakers, the company managed to thrive in the years following the recall.

Suppression of Medical Findings

Many have blamed Merck’s “bullying” tactics for helping them come out of the Vioxx scandal relatively unscathed. Internal emails revealed the company sought to discredit or “neutralize” doctors who showed findings of the drug’s dangers. “We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live,” read an email from one employee.

Many in the medical field stated they felt that Merck was trying to suppress academic integrity and keep medical findings from the public. However, these revelations came after the class action case was closed and victims had already settled.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem that there will ever be any true justice for Vioxx and Merck’s victims.