18 Months Missing from Merck Tape


It's not a beautiful morning for Merck & Co., as one of its key claims in defending against Vioxx lawsuits—that the drug's negative effects on the hearts of some patients did not occur before 18 months of usage—disappears. The New England Journal of Medicine has corrected an earlier article on the Vioxx APPROVe study, revising the window from first use to negative effects down to three months.

Merck says it stands by the results of the original study, whatever that means. If the company is saying the heart effects don't show up in all patients and there's still some lag time between initial use and medical risks (for example, that 60 Minutes is still wrong in claiming a woman died after a mere month of usage), then that's probably true. And [libertarian boilerplate alert] this doesn't mean people who decide to take the risks with Cox-2 inhibitors shouldn't be allowed to do so. But Merck (and Reason) argued that many of the pending Vioxx lawsuits were frivolous because they involved people who had not been taking the drug for a year and a half. Obviously, this change will open the company up to many more lawsuits, and will not help its credibility. (So far, Merck is three for six in Vioxx suits.)