JOHN YDSTIE, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Snigdha Prakash reports.
SNIGDHA PRAKASH: But scientists tracked the patients in the approved study for one more year. At that point, none of the patients was on Vioxx. They found that the group that had taken sugar pills developed 16 heart problems; the former Vioxx patients developed 28.
STEVEN NISSEN: I must tell you, it was very surprising to me. I had always assumed that if you stopped taking the drug the risk would go away.
PRAKASH: But this data shows that's not true, says cardiologist Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic.
NISSEN: What it shows us is that you can stop taking Vioxx and, based upon this study, for the next year, you're still at increased risk. And, in fact, the amount of increase is almost exactly the same as we saw during the three years that people were actually taking the drug.
PRAKASH: Clinical trial expert Curt Furberg of Wake Forest University says it's true the numbers are small. But, he says, they show a clear trend, and he's worried.
CURT FURBERG: I think they should not hide behind technicalities. My take from (unintelligible) is there is persisting risk with Vioxx, at least for a year. Does it continue for another couple of years or beyond that, no one knows, and I'm not sure we'll ever know.
PRAKASH: By some estimates, Vioxx may have caused more than 138,000 heart attacks and 58,000 deaths. Nissen says these new results suggest the toll on American public health may be greater than previous estimates.
NISSEN: If all the risk goes away when you stop the drug, then taking the drug off the market makes this public health problem disappear. But this study demonstrates that risk does not go away, that it continues. So we have more people at continuing risk than any of us previously believed.
PRAKASH: Snigdha Prakash, NPR News, Washington.