NEW ORLEANS — More than 3,000 former users of Merck & Co.'s withdrawn Vioxx pain drug have signed up to take part in a $4.85-billion settlement deal that a federal judge said Friday was in the best interests of both sides.
Lawyers for Merck and plaintiffs who claim to have been harmed by Vioxx were in U.S. District Court to give a status report on the settlement to Judge Eldon Fallon, who had presided over all federal Vioxx trials and is overseeing the settlement process.
"I believe this program will work and that it will be in the best interests of all concerned," Fallon said after receiving reports from the lawyers.
A total of 57,167 potential participants had registered claims by this week's deadline, and 3,065 have already opted to enroll in the settlement, which was announced in November.
Registrants will be divided into Vioxx users who had suffered heart attacks and those who suffered strokes after taking the medicine. Merck needs 85% of registered plaintiffs in each category to sign on to the settlement for the deal to move forward.
"We continue to expect to meet and exceed the enrollment thresholds, but we don't know when that will occur," said Ted Mayer, an outside counsel for Merck.
The settlement terms call for $4 billion to be divided among the heart attack victims who opt in, with $850 million to be set aside for those who suffered strokes. Once 85% of qualified registrants declare that they are opting into the settlement, Merck said it would write the check to fund it.
Merck pulled Vioxx, which was used by some 20 million Americans, from the market in October 2004 after a study showed that the popular pain and arthritis medicine doubled heart attack and stroke risks in long-term users.