Information about the arthritis drug and the company producing it


  • Vioxx is an anti-inflammatory drug. That means it reduces some internal inflammation causing pain in the body.
  • Since it is not a steroid, Vioxx is in the class of drugs known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). Aspirin is also part of that group.
  • Vioxx is analgesic, meaning it eliminates pain.
  • And it is antipyretic (an-tee-py-REHT'-ik), meaning it can reduce fevers.
  • Its active ingredient is: rofecoxib (roh-feh-KAHK'-sihb).
  • Vioxx has been on the market since getting federal approval in 1999.


  • The drug accounted for $2.5 billion in sales in 2003.
  • But sales had dipped this year, due to health concerns.
  • Merck is the world's third-largest drug manufacturer and Vioxx was one of their most important drugs.
  • The Vioxx withdrawal comes as Merck is preparing to lose the patent on its top-selling drug, Zocor. That patent sunsets in 2006, allowing for generic competition.
  • This all could benefit Pfizer, the world's largest drug company.


  • It treats: osteoarthritis (see below), acute adult pain and menstrual pain.
  • Possible side effects: respiratory infection, diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, kidney failure and high blood pressure.
  • Rare side effects: gnawing stomach pain, stomach ulcers or vomiting.
  • Strength as pain reliever: studies show 50 mg of Vioxx had the same effect as 400 mg of ibuprofen in patients with moderate to severe pain. That included people suffering dental, surgical or menstrual pain.


  • Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint and usually causes pain and stiffness.
  • Osteoarthritis is one form that occurs mainly in older people. -- It is characterized by the chronic degeneration of the cartilage in patients' joints.


  • Merck says it's withdrawing Vioxx based on a three-year study showing that Vioxx increases the risk for heart attack and stroke.


  • They should speak with their doctor about switching to another drug or treatment. -- Doctors are being told to take patients off Vioxx.
  • Merck says it will reimburse patients for any tablets they currently have.
  • For now, patients should keep the tablets and wait for more information.

Merck says the reimbursement information will be posted on or people can call 1-888-36-VIOXX (that's 1-888-368-4699).

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)