A Nevada law firm has sued the makers of popular cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia, claiming Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp. misled thousands of Nevada heart patients into believing the drugs were more effective than generic ones.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Reno by the firm of White, Meany and Wetherall, makes Nevada the latest state with such a consumer fraud complaint. Similar lawsuits have been filed in federal courts across the country, including in California, Florida, New York and Ohio.
The lawsuit also alleges Merck and Schering-Plough deliberately delayed for nearly two years a controversial internal study that raised questions about whether Vytorin and Zetia are more effective than generic drugs. The study was released last month under pressure from Congress.
The suit, which seeks class-action status, could provide damages for more than 10,000 Nevadans who use the drugs, lawyer Geoffrey White said.
“We think the chances of success are excellent and the facts are clear,” White said. “The drugs are way, way overpriced, and they really are no different than the generic form. It really is an outrageous fraud what these two companies have done to Nevadans.”
Both companies have said they would put up a vigorous defense.
“Vytorin and Zetia have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol in numerous clincal studies and they have been approved by the FDA for that indication,” Merck spokeswoman Amy Rose said last week.
The lawsuit seeks to recoup the difference in cost between generic cholesterol drugs that cost about one-third as much as Vytorin or Zetia.
Nevada users “could collect damages between what they or their insurance company paid for the two drugs and what they could have paid for the generic form,” White said.
The day after the results were released, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology essentially defended the companies, saying patients should not panic or stop taking Vytorin or Zetia without consulting their doctor, and that further research is needed to determine the best cholesterol-cutting strategy.
White’s firm also is taking on Merck in a separate case over its drug Vioxx, alleging heart damage to hundreds of Nevadans.
Last year, the firm won a $99 million jury award against pharmaceutical giant Wyeth on behalf of three Nevada women who claimed hormone replacement drugs caused their breast cancer.
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