March 22, 2006

Court hearing Vioxx case evacuated in alert

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - A courthouse in Atlantic City where a case is being heard against drug company Merck & Co. over pain-relieving drug Vioxx was evacuated on Wednesday after a suspicious device was found.

Clarence Dickerson, operations officer at Atlantic County Court House, said a device the size of a cigar box had been found in the sheriff's department on the first floor of the court house.

He described the package as having "wires on it and nails wrapped around it."

"To me it looked very suspicious," Dickerson told Reuters.

The latest hearing in the Vioxx trial had been due to start on the third floor of the court house at 9 a.m.

By around 8.30 a.m. some 50 people were being kept at a distance of around 100 yards (meters) from the building in Atlantic City near the city's famous casinos.

Almost 10,000 plaintiffs have sued Merck over Vioxx, claiming the company knew the drug increased the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, but failed to adequately warn users of its dangers. About half of the cases have been filed in Merck's home state of New Jersey.

The drug was withdrawn after a study of 8,000 patients found five times as many heart attacks occurred in Vioxx users than in people who took naproxen, another pain reliever.