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Calgarians join Vioxx lawsuit

Gwendolyn Richards

Calgary Herald

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Two Calgary-based law firms have launched a provincewide class action suit against the pharmaceutical company that recently pulled one of its drugs from the shelves after tests showed it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes in longtime users.

Docken & Company and Marshall Attorneys are calling on Merck Frosst Canada Ltd. to pay damages to Vioxx victims for pain and suffering, as well as lost income and medical expenses.

The suit covers any Albertans prescribed the medication who then allegedly sustained injuries to their cardiovascular system -- from heart attacks to congestive heart failure.

"Anything that affects the cardiovascular system that limits the person's ability in any way, those kinds of individuals would qualify," said lawyer Vaughn Marshall.

Merck put out a worldwide recall recently on the popular painkiller and arthritis drug after reports and studies found patients faced a significantly higher risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots.

Other class action suits have already been set up in Ontario, B.C., Quebec and Saskatchewan. The Toronto-based law firm of Rochon Genova has launched a national suit.

Jim Venables, a 49-year-old school bus driver and instructor, has joined the national suit against Merck.

He suffered a heart attack in July 2000 -- just five months after he began taking Vioxx for his arthritis -- and hasn't been able to work since.

He didn't know of the drug's risks until he heard about the voluntary recall at the end of September. He was taking the drug at the time.

Venables is angry that U.S. residents were warned by the Food and Drug Administration about potential complications related to the painkiller and arthritis medication, but Canadians were left in the dark.

"I guess they figure we're not as important," he said. "Maybe there's more of us to waste."

Marshall said Canadians could have been saved from a lot of suffering if they had known about the risks.

"This was a situation where a warning could have happened a lot sooner," he said.

So far, less than a dozen clients have signed on under the Alberta class action suit, but Marshall anticipates hundreds will have signed up by next week.

Irene Boux has been listed as the representative plaintiff for the suit. The claim indicates she is hospitalized due to complications related to the drug.

The claim outlines that Boux began taking Vioxx in 1999 and didn't stop until September 2004. She has been diagnosed with an enlarged heart that doesn't pump enough blood and oxygen through her veins.

Boux has to take medications for her condition and "will incur expenses for those medications and hospitalization for the duration of her life," read the claim.

While the statement of claim was filed Friday, Marshall said it could be some time before Merck responds.

"Usually, statements of defence start to arrive a number of months after the claim has been filed," he said.

Vioxx was first introduced in Canada five years ago and it is estimated that more than 700,000 Canadians have taken the drug. It was the second best-selling painkiller in the world with sales in excess of $2.5 billion.


A(c) The Calgary Herald 2004

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