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Fighting ill health and injustice 10 years after US 'arthritis wonder drug' was axed; ULSTER MOTHER'S FIGHT FOR TRUTH; Woman, 62, insists medicine's maker must pay compo.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE by SARAH SCOTT

SHE was fit and healthy with everything to live for but a so-called arthritis wonder drug has left life a daily struggle for one woman.

Almost a decade after Vioxx was removed from the market Barbara Petty, 62, is still fighting for justice.

She believes her health problems today all stem from taking the controversial medication.

Barbara, who lives with husband Alex, in Dunmurry, Co Antrim, was first prescribed Vioxx by her GP in 1999.

The mum of one had been told the new pain relief drug would ease the agony in her joints without any unwanted side effects.

But in 2004, five years after she first started taking the medication, Merck, the pharmaceutical giant behind it, pulled Vioxx from the market.

The move sent shock waves around the world as Vioxx users were told studies had found the drug was being linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

For Barbara, the withdrawal of the drug started a hellish journey of health issues and an unsuccessful fight for compensation.

She said: "I came off it one Saturday morning, my husband was making breakfast and I was getting washed.

"But I went to try to come out of the walk-in shower and it was like I was walking out of the shower but my head was being pulled back.

"I got this dizziness and I had to sit. I came down and my husband said my eyes looked funny."

Alex took Barbara to Lagan Valley Hospital for the first of many trips as Barbara began to notice more and more health ailments she believes are a result of taking Vioxx.

A few weeks after that incident, Barbara recalled she took a bad turn while shopping and hemorrhaged from her nose.

She added: "I am not the woman I was when I first went on this drug."

Barbara originally went to her GP hoping for a pain relief treatment for her osteoarthritis which would give her no side effects.

She explained: "At the time I was having great difficulty even getting a pair of shoes on. My knees, elbows and down the right hand side of my body hurt."

Despite complaints over her arthritis, Barbara enjoyed being an active member of the community in Dunmurry but now she feels a shadow of her former self.

She said: "I was on Naproxen and Lodine but a lot of arthritis drugs have a bad effect on the tummy, they give you acid reflux type symptoms and that's something I did not need so that's why I wanted to go to rheumatology."

Barbara initially went on a low dosage of Vioxx, 12.5mg, and was told it should have no effect on her stomach and that it should bring relief to the pains in her joints.

She added: "At the time they called it the new wonder drug for osteoarthritis.

"But the effects on the lower dose did not help the joints. They said if it did not help they would put it up to 25mg."

Now she is determined to get answers about her treatment as she tries to battle back to better health. She said: "I am determined that someone will do something about this, someone needs to be backing our corner. I am the victim here.

"It seems to me all they want to do is sweep it under the carpet."

Almost half a million people in the UK were taking Vioxx when its US producers removed it from sale.

The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1999 for the relief of osteoarthritis and menstrual pain, and later for treatment of the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

At that time, studies didn't show any significant risk of heart disease related to Vioxx.

However, long-term research found the risk of heart attacks and strokes was doubled if patients took it for 18 months.

Barbara said she will never forget the moment she heard the news about Vioxx, when she got a call from her sister Mandy, who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time.

She added: "In December 2004 I got a phone call from her and she was highly agitated about the whole thing and saying I must come off this drug. I remember saying, 'Come off what?'

"I told her I had been on it for years and she said ads appeared in TV saying 'Are you a Vioxx sufferer?'

"It was all over the press about the drug. I told my sister not to get annoyed because she was very ill.

"She told me to take it up on behalf of everyone. It was causing cardiovascular problems, strokes - because of all this it was taken off the market straight away.

"I was a pretty fit woman up until I went to the doctor and said my knees and feet were swelling and I generally do not feel well. I worked in Dunmurry Community Association and women's groups and I was also involved in arts and culture as I enjoyed writing poetry.

"A lot of things have changed for me.

For a start my husband took ill and had to come out of work - it took years for him to get his hips done.

"He was years as a sales rep and then suddenly he was out of work."

In the time since Vioxx was taken off the market, Barbara has been in and out of hospital with repeated visits to her GP.

She has even travelled to Spain and Dublin with her husband for treatment and consultation following her troubles in the aftermath of taking the drug.

Barbara said: "I do believe Vioxx is connected to what has happened to me, I was very fit until I started taking that. My throat is gradually getting worse and I have problems in my legs and hands."

Barbara also claimed to have suffered from severe headaches and heavy nose bleeds - symptoms she believes have been a side effect of taking Vioxx.

But she has never been able to claim any compensation after being on the drug for around five years.

In 2007, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits by people who had claimed they or their relatives had suffered injury or death after taking the drug. But this was only available to American citizens.

It was ruled the patients must challenge Merck in the UK courts. But, having been rejected for legal aid, claimants risked losing everything if they pursued Merck through the UK courts and lost.

Barbara, who is determined to fight for justice, said: "I thought I would be entitled to legal aid but nothing came of it. I am having trouble getting legal aid through any solicitor.

"There are times I will wake at 4am and lie there asking what effect is this having on me and my husband, should I let this go? But something is niggling at me and it is probably the words of my sister. "

Democratic Unionist MP for Lagan Valley Jeffrey Donaldson has been supporting Barbara over the past decade and said he still believes the Government has a responsibility to help Vioxx sufferers.

He added: "I think Barbara has a very strong case and it is an injustice that she and other victims of this drug treatment called Vioxx have been overlooked and that the UK Government has not fulfilled its responsibility to help them in their fight for recognition and compensation.

"I have raised this matter previously with senior ministers at Westminster but to date they have not been willing to accept the Government has a responsibility to assist and support the victims.

"I think that just as with other drug treatments that have serious consequences for those who were being treated, it is important that the victims of Vioxx are given parity and treated fairly.

"Therefore I will continue to support Barbara and other victims in their quest for justice and recognition."

Barbara added: "This company should be brought back into the UK by the politicians, the pressure should be put on them to set up a compensation fund in the UK for the people who took Vioxx and for their after-care and that is not being done."

A DHSSPS spokesman said: "The Governments both here in Northern Ireland and at Westminster have every sympathy with those UK patients who believe they have been adversely affected by Vioxx.

"This is a complex issue and it would be inappropriate for Ministers or Government officials to intervene in, or comment on, matters which are quite properly for the judicial system."

irish@mgn.co.uk

Someone needs to be backing my corner. I'm the victim here BARBARA PETTY dunmurry, yesterday

CAPTION(S):

BATTLE GOES ON Barbara Petty has urged ministers to intervene on her behalf

BUSY Barbara worked in her local community association

HEALTHY Barbara was a fit and active member of society
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 4, 2014
Words:1488
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