TRENTON, N.J. - Drug maker Merck & Co. has made its final, $4.1 billion payment into a fund to settle tens of thousands of US claims that withdrawn painkiller Vioxx caused heart attacks or strokes, the company said in a regulatory filing yesterday.
The final payouts to those patients or their survivors, from the $4.85 billion settlement fund, should be made by the end of June, according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
About $4 billion of that was reserved for heart attack patients. Their claims have already been processed and either paid or denied.
“The stroke claims are still in progress, and final payments are expected to be made sometime in the second quarter of this year,’’ Ted Mayer, outside counsel for Merck, said in an interview.
He said nearly 18,000 claims involving strokes are in process, and about 7,400 of those resulted in initial payments. Mayer could not immediately say how many of the heart attack claimants received payments and how many were determined not to fit the eligibility rules for claims.
The SEC filing said Merck has finalized some other parts of the sprawling litigation begun after it yanked Vioxx from the market in September 2004 because it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
That triggered lawsuits from around the world, filed by Vioxx users or survivors alleging the Whitehouse Station, N.J., company downplayed the drug’s dangers, which Merck denies. Other suits were filed by shareholders who collectively lost billions of dollars and by insurance plans, unions, and individuals.
In November 2007, Merck reached a $4.85 billion settlement with plaintiffs’ lawyers to resolve most of the roughly 50,000 product liability suits alleging Vioxx harmed or killed users.