After examining new data from the Vioxx drug maker Merck & Co, it is said that this arthritis drug could be at risk of developing strokes for years. It may be that Vioxx is causing permanent damage to the cardiovascular system, accelerating atherosclerosis or a sustained increase in blood pressure.
The drug, used by 20 million Americans, was recalled in late 2004 after it was shown to double heart attack risk among patients taking it 18 months or longer.
28 people from the three-year trial had heart attacks and strokes a year after they stopped taking Vioxx, compared with 16 patients from the trial that had taken placebos. 7 Vioxx users had strokes, while two Vioxx users had mini-strokes in the year-long follow-up period -- compared with no such incidents in the placebo group. These data raise some very important questions because for a while it was assumed Vioxx caused temporary problems, and here it is more than that. It could be causing permanent damage.
Merck is facing more than 11,500 lawsuits alleging harm from Vioxx and has fought a half-dozen Vioxx plaintiffs in U.S. trials -- winning half and losing half the cases. Some industry analysts expect Merck to eventually pay out billions of dollars to settle the cases and pay its legal fees, hurting company earnings for years to come.
The Merck's description last week of the stroke data suggested the risk was seen among patients while they were taking the drug, rather than when they had already stopped taking it.