Aussie nurses paid to find Vioxx patients

Australia has often been compared to the American Wild West--you know, rebellious, independent, a bit lawless--but even that doesn't account for the accusations flying in Australian court these days. 

Merck is fighting a class action suit over its long-withdrawn painkiller Vioxx; the case is now being tried in Australian Federal Court. The latest: A claim that Merck paid nurses to comb through patient records for potential Vioxx customers, and gave pharmacists incentives to recommend Vioxx to patients using rival drugs.

Merck's ex-marketing director for Vioxx, Penny Dobson, took the stand yesterday, saying that her team aimed to identify 100 possible candidates for Vioxx in each GP office they targeted. "We employed bone care nurses who were employed by a third party agency, they were not Merck employees," she said, as quoted by The Australian. "They would have had access to GP records with permission of the GPs."

As for the pharmacists, Dobson couldn't remember the exact reward, but did explain that the company had encouraged drug-dispensers to ask patients whether they were happy taking paracetamol (a.k.a. Panadol, Hedenol, etc.), and to recommend that they ask their doctors about Vioxx.

The trial continues; presumably we'll hear Merck's side of the story soon.

- check out the story in The Australian