Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, doctors and researchers have worked to produce medications that can be used to treat, cure, and prevent as many illnesses as possible. Pharmaceutical advancements started to escalate in the late 1800s when significant strides began to be made in vaccines and the treatment of a wide variety of diseases.
However, one company predates the pharmaceutical boon by about two centuries. Merck is the world’s oldest pharmaceutical company, and it’s also among the biggest. Today, pharmaceutical companies are under a microscope for their potential role in the opioid crisis. For that reason, it’s worth knowing who makes your medications and what they are producing.
Learn more about Merck and the medications it makes and sells.
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Merck is among the largest prescription drug companies in the world and includes a multinational presence that was founded in 1668. Merck & Co., the U.S. subsidiary of the larger Merck group, was established in 1891. The company is known for a wide variety of pharmaceutical products like vaccines, antibacterials, and antiparasitics. Merck has extensive research and development teams, and its efforts have led to a host of new drug approvals, more than any other pharmaceutical company. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 63 unique chemical products during the life of the U.S.-based Merck subsidiary.
Merck makes and sells dozens of prescriptions from black widow spider antivenin to shingles vaccines. It is a leader in the medical industry in terms of research and development especially when it comes to vaccines. Merck’s current major products include Gardasil, a vaccine that works against human papillomavirus.
The company is also working getting a vaccine approved that may be able to treat a deadly strain of the Ebola virus.
Throughout its history, Merck was the first company to introduce vaccines to treat illnesses like mumps, rubella, measles, hepatitis B, and chickenpox.
Merck makes a variety of medications for many areas of medical treatment including:
The opioid crisis has ravaged towns, municipalities, and states across the United States. It’s cost thousands of lives each year for more than a decade, and it often takes a tremendous financial toll on the hardest-hit places. For that reason, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids. Many of these lawsuits have been filed by big municipalities like the state on New Jersey. Like every big pharmaceutical company, Merck is no stranger to lawsuits.
In 1999, the FDA approved a new Merck drug called Vioxx, a brand name for rofecoxib. The drug was designed as an alternative to treating pain associated with arthritis. Other drugs used for this purpose, like anti-inflammatories like Aleve, were known to cause gastrointestinal bleeding.
However, on Sept. 23, 2004, a clinical trial revealed that patients who used Vioxx for more than 18 months were at a significantly increased risk to experience a heart attack. Five days later, Merck began removing the drug from the shelves and notified the FDA. In 2007, Merck paid out $4.85 billion to settle the majority of nearly 50,000 lawsuits that were filed against the company.
In the opioid epidemic, other pharmaceutical companies that make more widely distributed opioid painkillers have been sued by states and municipalities that see them as the root cause for the crisis. Merck has been left out of major lawsuits that have been filed by cities and states like New Jersey. Unlike Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, Merch doesn’t produce some of the most common opioids medications like ones that contain morphine and fentanyl.
However, that hasn’t stopped the company from getting onboard with the fight against opioids. Researchers from Merck, along with a host of other scientists have been looking at potential non-opioid pain-killing alternatives. Merck also backed a biotech start-up company called Quartet Medicine that attempted to find a non-opioid alternative to pain management. However, the company ran into research problems when it found signs of neurotoxicity, leading it to shut down the project and close its doors in 2017.”
In August 2018, Merck announced it would help alleviate some of the impacts of the opioid crisis in West Virginia, a state that was hit particularly hard by overdose deaths and addiction. The Merck Foundation gave $2 million to help fund the Great Rivers Regional System for Addiction Care, a program tasked with addressing some of the hardest hit areas in the state. The program uses harm-reduction techniques, counseling services, prevention education, and referrals to help prevent and address addiction.
Berenson, A. (2007, November 09). Merck Agrees to Pay $4.85 Billion in Vioxx Claims. from https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/09/business/09cnd-merck.html
Merck Foundation. (2018, August 01). Merck Foundation and Marshall Health Announce New Initiative to Address Opioid Epidemic in West Virginia. from https://www.mrknewsroom.com/news-release/corporate-news/merck-foundation-and-marshall-health-announce-new-initiative-address-opi
ServiceAug, R. F., StoneMar, R., WadmanMar, M., MervisMar, J., Fox, A., BrainardFeb, J., & ChoFeb, A. (2018, August 29). Spurred by opioid epidemic, new pain drugs may lower the risk of overdose and addiction. from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/08/spurred-opioid-epidemic-new-pain-drugs-may-lower-risk-overdose-and-addiction
Terry, M. (2017, November 17). Cambridge Biotech Quartet Medicine to Shut Down by Year End. from https://www.biospace.com/article/unique-cambridge-biotech-quartet-medicine-to-shut-down-by-year-end/