The hearing before U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon focused on two points deemed critical by patients suing the drug giant: whether they will have access to records concerning Vioxx maker Merck's sales force of some 3,000 people, and whether Merck can talk to doctors who prescribed the drug. Plaintiffs' attorneys want to have the records for their cases, but also are asking Fallon to prevent Merck's lawyers from speaking with the doctors.
The plaintiffs want to keep Merck from contact with doctors who prescribed the drug because they fear the company will influence their testimony. Merck argues against the prohibition, for exactly the same reason. On June 6, Fallon ruled that if one side can question the doctors, so can the other.
The judge agreed to reconsider his earlier decision, suggesting both sides could meet at the same time with doctors who have been sued. Still, that number represents only a small percentage of all doctors involved.
Another contentious point is information on the Merck sales team, which persuaded doctors to prescribe the drug.
Merck insists it would put an undue strain on the company to turn over all its sales force records. But the patients and their lawyers say information about how the Merck team sold doctors on Vioxx is crucial.