Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

May 20 2008

SEATTLE -- Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced that Washington will receive more than $1.6 million from drug maker Merck and Company, Inc., as part of the largest multistate consumer protection settlement involving the drug industry in U.S. history.

The Attorney General’s Office filed a consent decree today in King County Superior Court. Attorneys general in 28 other states and the District of Columbia filed similar agreements in their local courts today, resolving their three-year investigation into Merck’s deceptive promotion of the painkiller Vioxx. Vioxx, also known as refecoxib, was withdrawn from U.S. drugstores in September 2004 after a Merck study showed that long-term users of the drug had twice the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Merck agreed to pay the states $58 million and comply with substantial injunctions that will set guidelines on how the company promotes products in the future.

“Merck’s aggressive advertising campaign drove hundreds of thousands of consumers to seek Vioxx prescriptions before doctors fully understood the risk to patients,” McKenna said. “Today’s settlement is the largest in consumer protection history involving a drug manufacturer. It addresses our concerns by giving the federal government authority to approve or restrict how Merck advertises drugs to consumers in the future.”

Assistant Attorney General Bob Lipson represented Washington.

Today’s judgment requires Merck to submit all consumer-targeted television commercials to the Food and Drug Administration for approval before they air. It must also comply with any FDA recommendation to delay such advertising for new pain relievers.

The states expressed concerns that consumer-targeted commercials sometimes air before doctors have had a chance to gain experience with new drugs or understand their potential side effects.

The settlement prohibits Merck from:

  • Ghostwriting articles or studies,
  • Deceptively using scientific data when marketing to doctors, and
  • Failing to adequately disclose conflicts of interest involving promotional speakers who conduct presentations for supposedly “independent” Continuing Medical Education or members of Data Safety Monitoring Boards sponsored by Merck.

Washington’s share of the settlement can be used for consumer education and outreach activities and attorneys’ fees.

In addition to Washington, the following states and the District of Columbia participated in the settlement: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.

In related news, Merck recently extended the deadline for U.S. consumers who purchased Vioxx to receive refunds under a $4.85 billion class-action lawsuit. Eligible participants who registered by the Jan. 15 deadline now have until June 30, 2008, to submit their paperwork.


Vioxx complaint
Vioxx consent decree

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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432