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SICK SCOT'S DRUGS FIGHT; Ronnie battles US company after widow wins pounds 141M.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE By MARION SCOTT and CHARLES LAVERY

A SCOT prescribed the pill that triggered a pounds 141million payout revealed his battle against the US makers yesterday.

Ronnie Tough, 47, spoke out after Texan widow Carol Ernst won the massive compensation from drug giants Merck. She blamed their painkiller Vioxx for husband Robert's early death.

And he urged other Scots who fear they might have been put at risk by the pill, which has been linked to fatal heart attacks and strokes, to join the legal battle. Ronnie, a lawyer from Dundee, fears he is at particular risk because of a family history of heart problems.

He was prescribed high doses of Vioxx four years ago to help control constant pain from arthritis.

He is one of about 150 of the 400,000 UK patients prescribed Vioxx before it was withdrawn last year who are already part of a class action suit against Merck.

Merck have vowed to fight more than 4200 state and federal Vioxx-related lawsuits pending across the US alone The company also plan to appeal the compensation ruling in the case of Mr Ernst, who died in 2001.

They claim he died of clogged arteries rather than a Vioxx-induced heart attack.

Ronnie said yesterday: "Now there have been links with heart problems and this drug, I'm under huge stress wondering if it has done long- term damage to my heart.

"I'm particularly worried because my own father and grandfather died of heart attacks at 48. I'm already in terrible pain from rheumatoid arthritis.

"Now I have to live with the added fear the medication may have affected my heart."

The decision to remove the drug from the market came after a three-year trial in America shocked researchers by revealing it had caused serious heart disease and more than 1500 sudden cardiac deaths in users in California.

Ronnie's solicitor George Donnelly last night confirmed his client has joined a class action headed by US law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein against Merck.

He said: "We researched a number of class actions in America and joined the one we considered most appropriate for Ronnie."

Jane Tadman, of the Arthritis Research Campaign, said yesterday: "If Mr Tough was ata prior risk to having a heart attack or stroke or high blood pressure, he should never have been put on Vioxx in the first place.

"There seems to have been a lot of confusion over the drug and some of the guidelines to GPs were not followed properly.

"There are going to be lots of people who have very major concerns about their health"It seems likely that many people with arthritis in this country will probably have suffered heart attacks too.

"This data adds further weight to calls that Vioxx should have been withdrawn from sale several years earlier than 2004."

Merck say they acted responsibly in developing and marketing Vioxx

CAPTION(S):

Fears: Ronnie Tough; Victory: Widow Carol Ernst hears the verdict in a Texas court, above. Left, with husband Robert, who died of a heart attack; Banned: Vioxx
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 21, 2005
Words:510
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