Rofecoxib, sold by pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck under the brand name Vioxx, is a Cox-2 inhibitor drug, designed and prescribed as an alternative to traditional NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofin and aspirin. Cox-2 inhibitors are generally prescribed to patients suffering from arthritis pain and who suffer from gastrointestinal problems when taking traditional NSAIDs.
Unfortunately, while many patients chose Vioxx because of it caused fewer stomach problems than over the counter NSAIDs, some of the side effects that it did cause proved far more serious.
Within a few months of the FDA’s approval of Vioxx in 1999, the drugmaker Merck began to uncover compelling evidence in its own studies that Vioxx doubled patients’ risks of serious heart problems and death.
Many have alleged that Merck actively and intentionally failed to disclose information showing the seriousness of the problem, including leaving several reports of heart attacks out of their published Vioxx studies.
It was not until 2004, when studies continued to show clear and serious risks of taking Vioxx, that Merck finally withdrew Vioxx from the US market.
A study in the medical journal Lancet estimates that, during its five years on the market in the United States, Vioxx was responsible for 88,000 heart attacks, 38,000 of them fatal.
The Tradeoffs of Cox-2 Inhibitors
Traditional NSAIDs work by inhibiting both Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes. Cox-1 enzymes protect the stomach lining, so medications such as Vioxx, which inhibit only the Cox-2 enzymes, result in fewer stomach problems than traditional drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofin, which inhibit both types of enzyme.
While Cox-2 inhibitors do work to relieve pain and swelling without causing gastrointestinal problems, what they end up doing can be much more damaging. By inhibiting only one type of enzyme, they affect the body’s natural balance of Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes, which can affect the blood’s clotting capabilities, sometimes leading to serious and even fatal problems with the heart and the vascular system.
Dangerous Side Effects of Vioxx
Among Vioxx’s more severe side effects are increased risks of cardiovascular problems and other issues, including:
- Heart attacks
- Peripheral vascular events (problems with blood supply to parts of the body other than the heart and brain)
- Angina pectoris
- Kidney damage
As of 2005, 13,000 lawsuits had been filed on behalf of 23,000 Vioxx users who had suffered heart attacks, strokes, and other serious problems as a result of their use of the drug.
Merck lost the first Vioxx liability case to go to trial in 2005, with a Texas jury concluding that Merck was liable for $253 million in punitive and compensatory damages to the widow of a 59 year old triathlete who died as a result of taking Vioxx for pain relief.
Since that case, Merck has lost several other cases as well, being found responsible for damages due to their negligence and their repeated attempts to hide information that would have informed patients of the risks involved in taking Vioxx.
If You or a Loved One Took Vioxx
If you or someone you love suffered a heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, or other serious injury as a result of taking Vioxx, it is important that you seek competent legal representation from an experienced pharmaceutical recall attorney as soon as possible.