• Increase font size
  • Decrease font size
  • Print
Normandin Beaudry

The withdrawal of Vioxx from the world market


There, in black and white

Bulletin NB Vol. 7 N. 17, October 2004

A few days ago, Merck Frosst announced that it was pulling its flagship drug Vioxx off the market worldwide because of the increased risk of cardiovascular events (heart attacks and strokes) for people who use this drug for a long period (more than 18 months).

Vioxx is a drug prescribed to relieve pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis or rhumatoid arthritis.

According to some statistics, Vioxx was the second most prescribed drug in Canada in 2003-2004 and it accounted for 1.24% of the total cost of prescribed drugs (source: ESI Canada). Worldwide sales of this product totaled some $2.5 billion annually.

Will the withdrawal of Vioxx have an impact on the cost of private group insurance plans? There are similar drugs available on the market. For example, Celebrex and Bextra belong to the same drug class and cost about the same as Vioxx. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that patients currently being treated with Vioxx will be directed to these other drugs, and thus there will be no impact on private group insurance plans.

However, side effects vary from patient to patient and a lack of confidence in these drugs could influence which alternative is chosen by patients being treated with Vioxx.

Much cheaper drugs like Naproxen and Voltaren (generic forms of which exist) were earlier prescribed to relieve pain and inflammation. However, because of stomach problems caused by absorption of these drugs, they were often prescribed in combination with a drug to treat gastrointestinal problems.

Therefore, at this time it is difficult to predict what effect the withdrawal of Vioxx will have on the cost of private group insurance plans. Rest assured that we will monitor developments closely and keep you informed.


Please feel free to contact us for additional information.

630, René-Lévesque Blvd. West, 30th floor
Montreal, Quebec, H3B 1S6