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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 August 2005, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Thousands may seek Vioxx damages
Christine Peckham
Christine Peckham was among 500,000 Britons who used Vioxx
Thousands of Britons who suffered ill effects after using painkiller Vioxx may take legal action against drug company Merck, a solicitor has said.

Gerard Dervan, of MSB Solicitors, said it was a "fair estimation" to say thousands may seek action. Almost 500,000 Britons have used the drug.

It comes after a US jury found Merck negligent in the death of a man who used it and awarded his widow 141m.

Merck said there was no scientific base for the US ruling and it would appeal.

Vioxx, which was withdrawn last September amid safety concerns, was seen as a breakthrough in pain relief for arthritis sufferers because it did not have the same side effects as other drugs.

Merck should be made to pay for what they've done for the people who've been taking the product
Christine Peckham
Potential claimant

But it was taken off the market after a long-term study found that the risk of heart attacks and strokes was doubled if patients took the drug for 18 months.

Firms in London and Liverpool are understood to be representing at least 150 potential claimants.

Christine Peckham, from Skelmersdale, Lancs, who took the drug to relieve arthritic pain and suffered two strokes, said: "I've been left partially paralysed, I've lost my sight and I've got epilepsy.

"Merck should be made to pay for what they've done for the people who've been taking the product, because they put their profits first, before lives."

The drug is known to have been taken by more than 20 million people worldwide before it was withdrawn.

Widow Carol Ernst in court during Vioxx case

It has been estimated that Vioxx could have caused 27,785 heart attacks or deaths since it was approved for use in 1999.

Worldwide, more than 4,200 lawsuits have been filed against the firm over the drug.

Ms Peckham's solicitor, Mr Dervan of MSB Solicitors in Liverpool, which is representing 60 claimants in the UK, said they were fighting the case in the US where there is a no-win-no-fee system because the Legal Service Commission had decided not to fund any actions against Merck in the UK.

"It is a fair estimation to say that there are possibly thousands of people in the UK alone who may wish to take legal action," he added.

He pointed out that Merck faces two more lawsuits later this year and suggested that if the value of shares in the company continued to fall, Wall Street may prompt the company to make settlements out of court.

A jury in Texas on Friday awarded a $253.4m (141m) settlement to the widow of the US man who died suddenly after using Vioxx.

Unreliable evidence?

It found Merck negligent in the death of 59-year-old Robert Ernst, in the first of what could be as many as 4,200 similar lawsuits worldwide.

The court heard claims that Merck had played down safety fears about the drug for a decade.

But Merck has always maintained that it investigated the safety issues as soon as they arose.

After the ruling in Texas, Merck attorney Jonathan Skidmore said: "There is no reliable scientific evidence that shows Vioxx causes cardiac arrhythmia, which an autopsy showed was the cause of Mr Ernst's death."

Shares in Merck fell $2.35 - or 7% - on Friday.

Mo Atchia, a spokesman for Arthritis Care, said: "We would urge anyone who is concerned about the potential side effects of Vioxx or any other drug treatment for arthritis to contact their GP at the earliest opportunity."

Watch an interview with Christine Peckham

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