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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February 2005, 10:48 GMT
'Taking painkiller ruined my life'
By David Green
BBC News

Christine Peckham
Christine Peckham carried on taking Vioxx after her strokes
Christine Peckham is one of hundreds of people in the UK who claim the controversial painkiller Vioxx ruined their lives.

The 53-year-old, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, suffered two strokes after taking the drug and is now partially paralysed, registered blind and suffers epileptic fits.

Vioxx was withdrawn from sale by US firm Merck & Co in September last year after it was linked to heart attacks and strokes following medical trials.

The advisory committee of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) voted last week to allow its resale under certain conditions, but Merck says it has not yet decided whether it will.

Mrs Peckham, who took the drug to ease the pain of her arthritis, is now seeking a "six figure sum" in compensation.

I kept on taking the tablets, because no-one told me not to - in December of the same year, I had another stroke and my sight went
Christine Peckham
But she says she is more interested in learning the truth about how much drug manufacturers knew about the dangers.

"I want answers. I want answers to why they didn't let us know about the problems earlier," she says.

Like many alleged victims of Vioxx, doctors prescribed the drug to Mrs Peckham in 1999 as an alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs, which have been linked to stomach ulcers.

At first she saw it as a "wonder drug" which eased the pain of her arthritis and allowed her to live a more active life.

But in September 2001 she suffered a stroke and everything changed.

Image of pills
The drug was withdrawn over links to heart attacks and strokes

"I was 49-years-old and I wasn't in any of the risk categories - I didn't drink, didn't smoke, wasn't overweight," she says.

"I kept on taking the tablets, because no-one told me not to. Then, in December of the same year, I had another stroke and my sight went.

"I still kept on taking the tablets until the week Merck withdrew them from the market.

"When I heard they had been withdrawn, I felt sick."

From enjoying an active life, she says she is now too scared to go out on her own for fear of having another stroke or epileptic fit.

Merck acted in what it believed was the best interest of patients
Dr Peter Kim, Merck & Co
"My husband has given up work to look after me and my parents are 84-years-old and they come in and sit with me. I should be looking after them," she adds.

Her solicitor, Gerard Dervan of MSB Solicitors in Liverpool, says they will take part in a group action in the US, where thousands of Vioxx users are seeking compensation.

London law firm Leigh, Day & Co is seeking a similar group action including up to 500 claimants in the UK courts under the Consumer Protection Act, arguing that Merck put a defective product for sale on the market.

If successful, claimants could win up to 30,000 each, the firm's solicitor Sapna Malik said.

But a long court battle for Mrs Peckham and others like her looks likely.

'Cop-out'

Merck & Co's Dr Peter Kim said the firm tackled safety issues "head on" and it was only after medical trials in 2004 that evidence of a link to heart problems was discovered.

"Within one week of learning those results, Merck acted in what it believed was the best interest of patients and voluntarily withdrew Vioxx from the market," he said.

"The company believes that it has meritorious defences with respect to lawsuits and it will vigorously defend them."

A recent law change, which means group actions of more than $5m (2.6m) should be heard by less sympathetic Federal courts, also risks limiting Mrs Peckham's potential damages.

"This law that George Bush has brought in is just a cop-out for the pharmaceuticals," she says.

"They're making enough money and they should be made to pay in some way."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch an interview with Christine Peckham



SEE ALSO:
US regulator votes for pain drugs
18 Feb 05 |  Business
Congress curbs class-action suits
17 Feb 05 |  Americas


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