Seven locals sue Merck for "jaw death"

David Yates Aug. 27, 2007, 11:49am

Seven local residents have put their names on a lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Merck, claiming a medication designed to treat thinning bones instead caused permanent bone decay.

The lawsuit, Sandra Cooper et al vs. Merck & Co. Inc., was filed in the Jefferson County District Court on Aug. 23 by the Houston law firm Laminack, Pirtle & Martines.

The suit alleges that Merck's osteoporosis medication Fosamax is defective, and that the manufacturer went so far as to bribe physicians to prescribe it in spite of the dangers.

Fosamax is a bisphosphonate that works to correct osteoporosis by reducing the activity of the cells that cause bone loss, increasing the amount of bone in most patients, according to the Merck Web site.

"Osteoporosis is often called a 'silent disease' because there are no symptoms, so you can't feel your bones become weak," the Web site said. "Sometimes, women will not know they have osteoporosis until a bone breaks."

In their suit, the plaintiffs allege Fosamax is "defective, dangerous to human health, unfit and unsuitable to be marketed and sold in commerce and lacked the proper warnings as to the dangers associated with its ingestion."

The suit also alleges Merck pharmaceutical reps bribed physicians to prescribe Fosamax, and that the company knew of the medication's dangerous side effect but "maliciously" marketed the drug anyway.

By taking Fosamax the plaintiffs claim they developed osteonecrosis of the jaw, the suit said.

Better known as "jaw death," osteonecrosis of the jaw is a disfiguring and disabling condition in which the bones of the jaw "die" from infection.

"ONJ develops when the jaw fails to heal after minor trauma such as a tooth extraction that results in bone exposure," the MediaFact Web site states.

Merck did not list ONJ as a possible side effect on its Web site. However, lawsuits against Merck and other bisphosphonate manufactures have been sprouting up across the nation.

"The drug Fosamax was defective in design or formulation in that, when it left the hands of the manufacture, the foreseeable risks far exceeded the benefits associated with the design or formulation," the suit said.

The eight-count suit faults Merck with strict product liability, negligence, misrepresentation and fraud, civil conspiracy and commercial bribery, breach of implied warranty, breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, breach of express warranty and gross negligence/malice.

The plaintiffs are suing for past and future physical pain, lost wages, mental anguish, medical expenses, impairment and disfigurement, plus exemplary and punitive damages.

They are demanding a trial by jury.

Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th Judicial District, will preside over the case.

Case No. B179-876

More News