updated 11/9/2004 7:58:56 AM ET 2004-11-09T12:58:56

Drug maker Merck & Co. said that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are looking into the company's handling of Vioxx, the blockbuster arthritis drug it pulled off the market Sept. 30 after safety studies showed it increased the risk of heart attacks.

In a regulatory filing Monday, Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck said the company is the subject of a criminal investigation from the Justice Department, which subpoenaed documents on the company's research, marketing and selling activities for Vioxx.

The company estimates 105 million prescriptions were written for the drug for 20 million patients in the United States from May 1999 to August 2004. In 2003, Vioxx had U.S. sales of about $1.8 billion.

The SEC also told the company it was beginning its own informal inquiry regarding the drug.

Merck said it has also received a letter from the attorneys general in five states stating that its return and refund program for unused Vioxx will not provide consumers with adequate notice and will be unduly burdensome.

Merck said that it will cooperate with all information requests and investigations.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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