Zocor, Zetia and Vytorin are extremely popular top-selling medications used to treat high cholesterol. Zocor, known generically as simvastatin, is one of the “statin” drugs and works by reducing LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” and triglyceride levels in the blood, while increasing HDL, or “good cholesterol,” levels. Zetia, or ezetimibe, is also a medication used to treat high cholesterol, but it has a different mechanism than Zocor. Zetia prevents the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Vytorin is a combination of the two medications. Zetia is often combined with a statin to utilize two different methods for more effective cholesterol control, and Vytorin markets itself on this fact.

In 2009, Merck and Schering-Plough, the makers of Zetia and Vytorin settled a lawsuit alleging claims of fraud in the sale and marketing of the two medications. The amount of the settlement was $41.5 million, and, while not admitting guilt, the companies agreed to partial reimbursement for consumers and nongovernmental purchasers. This included insurers, employers and union health plans. The basis of the lawsuit was that the companies had broken federal racketeering laws, attempting to suppress the results of a clinical study done in 2006 in order to boost sales of Zetia. Zetia is patented by Schering-Plough, but was jointly marketed and sold by Merck.

The companies claimed that Vytorin was more effective at lowering cholesterol than either of the medications alone and could reduce heart attack and stroke through the mechanism of blocking arterial plaque. The suppressed 2006 study actually showed that Vytorin was no more effective at blocking plaque than simvastatin, the Zocor generic that had just done to market. By suppressing this study, the makers of Vytorin caused consumers to pay considerably more than they would have for either of the medications separately.

Additionally, the three medications are linked with the serious side effects of myopathy and rhabdomyolysis. Although relatively rare, the conditions can be devastating. Myopathy is a condition affecting the muscles, which causes severe muscle weakness, pain and fatigue. It can develop quickly after taking the medication or over time. If not caught quickly, it may be irreversible and can lead to rhabdomyolysis, in which the kidneys become overwhelmed with toxins from dead or dying muscle tissue and fail.