The pharmaceutical company Merck announced today that it would pay approximately $950 million in civil damages and criminal fines to resolve a longstanding problem with its medication called “Vioxx.” The drug was already taken off the market for safety reasons, but Merck has been accused of making false statements about the drugs cardiovascular safety and promoted the drug for unapproved uses.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more people die every year in the United States from use of heroin and cocaine combined. My view is that such huge pharmaceutical companies should be held accountable for putting profits ahead of the law and the safety of their own costumers. These companies spend billions to lobby for laws protecting them from civil and criminal liability, making it very difficult to bring civil actions against them for bad testing, bad drugs and bad marketing.
It is difficult to understand how the shareholders and officers of companies like Merck can justify the actions that have resulted in this settlement and criminal penalties. The statements of their lawyers indicating that the company acted properly and responsibly are difficult to stomach. I imagine they are even more aggravating and hurtful to the thousands of people who suffered as a result of taking Vioxx before it was taken off the market.
Consumers rely on drug companies and the FDA to ensure that the medications that are being made available to the public are safe and do what they are supposed to do. The severity of this settlement and penalties, and the fact the Merck has been charged with criminal activity, shows that the company has not earned that trust. We need to be able to know that the medications we are paying so much money for are not going to make us worse or kill us. It seems as though litigation and criminal charges may be the only effective method of persuading these companies that we deserve safe, reliable medications.