LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The pharmaceutical company Merck has agreed to pay nearly a billion dollars to settle charges that it illegally marketed its painkiller, Vioxx. The drug was taken off the market in 2004 after questions were raised about its safety. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Merck agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of violating food and drug regulations. It will pay a criminal fine worth $321 million. The company also agreed to a civil settlement of $628 million. It has already paid nearly $5 billion to settle private lawsuits about the drug. Vioxx was approved for sale in 1999, but it was taken off the market after evidence emerged that it doubled the risk of heart attacks.
The government says Merck's sales representatives promoted the drug as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, even though it hadn't been approved for it. The company continued to do so even after it was warned by the Food and Drug Administration to stop. The government also says Merck lied to state Medicaid agencies about the safety of Vioxx. The company confirmed the settlement in a statement. Merck also said that the settlement did not mean upper management knew about any of the illegal conduct the government accuses the company of. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.