updated 10/3/2004 4:55:58 PM ET 2004-10-03T20:55:58

A Missouri woman has sued the maker of arthritis drug Vioxx over the 2002 death of her daughter.

The suit filed Friday by Caroline Nevels of Lexington came a day after Merck & Co. pulled the medication from shelves over fears users faced increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Nevels says her 34-year-old daughter, Shelly South, took Vioxx for 2½ years before dying of a heart attack in November 2002. She claims Merck knew of the risks of Vioxx long before its announcement Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Merck said she had not seen the lawsuit and the company would not comment on litigation.

Also named in the suit is Dr. Waclaw Alex Dymek, the Carrollton physician who prescribed the drug to South. Nevels claims Dymek failed to diagnose the severity of her daughter’s heart condition and prescribed Vioxx despite her medical history.

The doctor said he had not seen the lawsuit and did not remember treating South.

Filed as class action
Kenneth McClain, the plaintiff’s attorney, said the suit was the first of its kind in Missouri, though similar lawsuits are in the works across the country. One attorney claims to represent 58 patients around the U.S. who say they have been harmed by Vioxx, including people who suffered a heart attack, stroke, internal bleeding or kidney failure.

The lawsuit, filed as a class action although Nevels is the only named plaintiff, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and money for medical monitoring of Vioxx users.

Merck is one of the world’s largest drug makers, and Vioxx is its popular medication for arthritis as well as acute pain and disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The drug accounted for $2.5 billion in worldwide sales last year.

Some 84 million prescriptions have been filled since the drug’s introduction.

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