The health-care-fraud unit of the US Attorney's Office in Massachusetts is investigating whether the drugmaker promoted Vioxx to health-care professionals for uses other than those approved by the FDA, otherwise known as off-label marketing,The Wall Street Journal reports. The probe comes as Merck hopes to proceed with a $4.85 billion settlement with thousands of people who allege they were harmed by the painkiller.
Merck declined to comment. Last February, however, the drugmaker disclosed in its regulatory filings that the Justice Department issued a subpoena requesting info to its research, marketing and sales of Vioxx as part of a federal investigation under criminal statutes. Merck also disclosed in that filing that 31 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia are investigating Vioxx sales and marketing.
Justice Department probes into marketing have resulted in settlements of $875 million with TAP Pharmaceuticals in 2001 and $355 million with AstraZeneca in 2003. And Lilly is negotiating with federal prosecutors who are investigating the marketing of the Zyprexa antipsychotic.