Of the Legal Staff
Pennsylvania has settled with pharmaceutical company Merck for $8.25 million over the company’s failure to warn the state of the harmful health effects of prescription painkiller Vioxx.
The money will go toward the state’s PACE program, a prescription assistance program for Pennsylvania’s seniors. The state government was assisted in settlement negotiations by Cohen, Placitella & Roth. After the law firm is paid its fees and expenses, $6.9 million will go to the PACE program.
This is the second time Pennsylvania has entered a settlement with Merck related to the Vioxx litigation. Pennsylvania was one of several states that participated in a $58 million settlement in 2008 over allegations Merck deceptively marketed the drug. Pennsylvania’s cut of that settlement was $2.9 million.
Pennsylvania declined to participate in a $950 million federal and multistate settlement with Merck in 2011 that would have split about $200 million among 43 states.
Harry M. Roth of Cohen Placitella said Pennsylvania was put in the position of having to give up its more lucrative PACE claims for a piece of the $950 million settlement to resolve Medicaid claims. It objected to that settlement and ultimately withdrew from the settlement discussions.
Pennsylvania then continued litigating its claims regarding PACE and other government third-party payers such as Medicaid. During the course of that litigation, all of the other third-party payers were voluntarily dismissed, leaving only the PACE claims. Today’s $8.25 million settlement announcement resolves those PACE claims.
Pennsylvania’s lawsuit against Merck alleged the company failed to disclose its studies, which showed the use of Vioxx increased the user’s risk of serious illnesses, such as heart attack and stroke. In the lawsuit, the state said it would not have purchased the quantities of Vioxx it did had Merck properly disclosed the studies revealing the associated health risks.
“The Merck settlement will further support PACE programs and help grant access to affordable prescription drugs to our seniors in need,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said in a statement. “Merck had a clear legal obligation to disclose known harmful side effects from Vioxx to both the medical community and patients. Companies that fail to reveal pertinent facts about side effects from their drugs should be aware there are legal and monetary costs to pay for misleading the citizens of Pennsylvania.”