On the day a Texas jury awarded $253 million to a widow who blamed her husband's death on his use of the pain relieving drug Vioxx, besieged manufacturer Merck was the target of another lawsuit leveled against it in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Represented by St. Louis attorney John J. Driscoll, Gracie Blount also names pharmaceuticals Pfizer and Pharmacia and retailer Walgreen Co., claiming she suffered a heart attack at age 56 from taking either or both Vioxx and Celebrex.

The drugs relieve arthritis pain.

While the Texas award will be whittled down to $26.1 million because of the state's rules on punitive damages, the jury's decision in favor of the plaintiff could invite even more Vioxx lawsuits.

Blount's complaint, filed Aug. 19, marks the 41st Vioxx lawsuit filed against Merck in St. Clair County in which consumers claim the drug caused their cardiac problems. More than 4,000 similar lawsuits have been filed across the country since it was removed from the market Sept. 30, 2004.

The first St. Clair County suit was a class action case, Rensing v. Merck, which was filed the day after Vioxx was removed from commerce.

Blount's 12-count suit claims Pharmacia and Pfizer encouraged the use of Celebrex in "improper customers."

"Pharmacia and Pfizer aggressively marketed this drug directly to the consuming public, although only available through prescription, through the use of various marketing mediums, including, but not limited to print and television advertisements," the suits states.

"Pharmacia and Pfizer did this to increase sales and profits."

Walgreen Co. is named as a defendant for promoting, distributing and selling the drugs.

According to the complaint, Merck ignored a study conducted in 2000 which revealed that Vioxx use resulted in a statistically significant increase in hypertension and stroke.

"Not only did Merck do nothing to further accurately publish these studies or warn consumers, but it denied the results with respect to hypertension," the suit states.

"Merck engaged in a massive advertising and sampling program and gained continued increases in the market share, which enhanced Merck's financial stability to the detriment of its consumers.

"As a result of Merck's scheme, it reaped more than $2 billion in profit in the year 2000 alone, and appropriated approximately 23 percent share of the market."

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