March 22, 2006

Court in Vioxx case evacuated briefly

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - A New Jersey courthouse where a case is being heard against Merck & Co's pain-relieving drug Vioxx was evacuated on Wednesday after a suspicious device was found, but officials soon gave the all-clear.

Clarence Dickerson, operations officer at Atlantic County Courthouse, said a device the size of a cigar box was 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.

The alert lasted around 75 minutes, with some 50 people kept at a distance of around 100 yards (meters) from the building in Atlantic City near the city's famous casinos. There was no more information on the device that had been found.

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.

Merck voluntarily withdrew Vioxx in September 2004 after a study showed the risk of heart attack and stroke doubled in patients who took the drug for at least 18 months.