Members of Parliament have agreed to put pressure on the US drug company, Merck, to provide compensation. Mr Ivan Lewis, Under Secretary of State for Health, has promised his support in asking the drug giant why it is compensating victims in the USA but not in the UK.
About 400,000 Britons were prescribed the painkilling drug, Vioxx, for short-term relief from acute pain and for the treatment of arthritis. The drug was launched in 1999 and was supposed to avoid the adverse gastro-intestinal side effects that can occur when taking other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
However, it was subsequently discovered that the use of Vioxx could increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. This was confirmed in an unpublished study from 2004, sponsored by Merck, and the drug was removed from the market.
Unfortunately, in the period between 1999 and 2004 a proportion of those who were prescribed the drug had suffered heart attacks and strokes, some of which were fatal.
In the USA, Merck faced lawsuits from many of those affected. Eventually, the company set aside $4.85 billion to compensate sufferers.
However, those in the UK seeking compensation for harmful side effects they suffered after taking Vioxx have not been so fortunate and pressure from the Government would appear to be their only hope of redress. UK victims were refused legal aid in order to fight their claims and have been unable to get the insurance cover necessary to pursue them on a no-win, no-fee basis. In October last year, a US court ruled that UK victims could not claim compensation through the US courts.
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