The lawsuit claims that Merck repeatedly failed to disclose the drug’s adverse effects while offering it to the state’s Medicaid program as a safe painkiller, in direct violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Vioxx was used to treat joint pain until it was removed from the market in 2004 after studies suggested those taking it had an increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with long-term use.
The lawsuit follows a three-year investigation of Merck’s promotional practices and alleges that, due to the company’s marketing practices, numerous state agencies approved the inclusion of Vioxx as a covered or approved drug, and agreed to pay for the prescription or reimburse its expense.
In a prepared statement, Merck said it acted responsibly and intends to defend the complaint, which is similar to those filed by eight other states and pending in federal and state courts.
“The medicine was labeled appropriately under the direction of the FDA according to evolving science available at the time it was on the market,” the company stated in a news release.
Vioxx purchases by the Florida Medicaid program alone exceeded $80 million between 1999 and 2004.
The suit also alleges that Merck tried to intimidate physicians and researchers who questioned the safety of Vioxx, and may have misrepresented or concealed published evidence, including its own, showing possible harmful effects.