AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine has received more than $1.1 million in a nationwide federal court settlement with the manufacturer of the painkiller Vioxx over its failure to disclose potential adverse effects, according to the the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
The drug company Merck paid state and the federal governments a total of nearly $950 million in civil damages and penalties to resolve claims on behalf of the Medicaid, Medicare and other federally funded health care programs, Attorney General William J. Schneider announced in a press release issued Friday.
The company pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of illegally introducing a drug into interstate commerce, the Justice Department said last month in a press release. Merck promoted Vioxx to treat rheumatoid arthritis before it was approved in 2002 by the FDA.
Merck agreed to pay a $321 million criminal fine.
In addition to the fine, Merck agreed to pay $426 million to the federal government and $202 million to state Medicaid agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services in Maine.
The misleading representations caused physicians to write prescriptions for Vioxx that they otherwise would not have written, resulting in Medicaid paying for prescriptions that should not have been submitted for reimbursement, Schneider said in the press release.
“The big payout by Merck follows multi-year investigations and extensive civil and criminal litigation,” Schneider said in the press release. “Especially where patient safety is at risk, we will work diligently with our state and federal partners to hold drug makers accountable for fraud and abuse and safeguard the taxpayer dollars that fund essential health care services for our most needy citizens.”
The pharmaceutical firm, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., pulled Vioxx from the market in more than 80 countries in 2004 after a clinical trial showed that it doubled the risk of heart attack, stroke and death, the New York Times reported last month.
In 2007, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits by people who said they or their relatives were injured or died after taking the drug, the newspaper reported.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Miller, director of the Healthcare Crimes Unit, handled this matter for Maine, according to the press release.
The Healthcare Crimes Unit is the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit for the State of Maine charged with investigating and prosecuting financial fraud and other crimes committed by MaineCare providers or their employees, and investigating and prosecuting abuse, neglect or exploitation of elderly and dependent persons that occurs in health care facilities or by health care providers.