WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts is investigating Merck over the promotion of its painkiller Vioxx, which was pulled from the market in 2004, according to the Wall Street Journal. The investigation is over whether Merck promoted the drug to health care professionals for uses other than those approved for by the Food and Drug Administration.
In February 2007, Merck released in its regulatory filings that the Justice Department issued a subpoena requesting information relating to the company's research, marketing and sales of Vioxx as part of a federal investigation under criminal statutes.
Merck disclosed in that filing that 31 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia are investigating its sales and marketing of Vioxx. The company said it is cooperating with authorities in all of these investigations.
Merck withdrew Vioxx after a study linked it to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. The company faced some 27,000 lawsuits from people alleging injuries from the drug. In November, Merck struck a tentative $4.85 billion settlement. The grand-jury investigation comes at a time when thousands of plaintiffs are weighing whether to enroll in the pending settlement.
Justice Department probes into drug marketing have resulted in settlements of $875 million with TAP Pharmaceuticals in 2001 and $355 million with AstraZeneca in 2003. Eli Lilly is negotiating with federal investigators regarding its marketing of antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.