In The American Conservative, Ron Unz compares the Vioxx litigation to the Chinese melamine scandal, and finds the American justice system lacking. (Also: Sailer; Roberts; and a plaintiffs' lawyer who makes the lay mistake of confusing a mass tort with a "class action".) But Unz's entire argument is based on an incorrect premise. Unz assumes that David Graham is correct in implying that Vioxx had "probably been responsible for at least 55,000 American deaths during the five years it had been on the market." But Graham is not. While Graham's text in the Lancet made wild allegations, the headlines were not supported by his underlying data, which found a relative risk of low-dose Vioxx of 1.24, which was not statistically significant. A later Lancet study confirmed that Vioxx and other COX-2s were no worse than other NSAID pain relievers when it came to cardiovascular risk.
And, of course, Vioxx was not merely a product of corporate profit-seeking; it had benefits over other pain relievers. Since Vioxx has been withdrawn from the market, serious ulcerations have increased 21%.
Merck's total legal bill for Vioxx is in the range of $8 billion and counting, though it correctly won the vast majority of cases taken to final judgment; the only ones it lost, it lost due to junk science. Merck's experience with Vioxx is certainly a damning indictment of the American justice system, but for reasons opposite than the ones Unz thinks.