April 2007 Big Pharma Litigation Update – Drugs – Part II

Evelyn Pringle April 12, 2007

The anti-epileptic drug, Depakote (valproate), marketed by Abbott Laboratories, is one of the most heavily prescribed medications for off-label use. Experts say the evidence of harm caused by Depakote is just beginning to emerge.

According to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania psychiatrist, Dr Stefan Kruszewski, a recognized expert on psychotropic drugs, “we can anticipate a continuing series of tragic outcomes from the massive overuse of Depakote, secondary not only to birth defects and death, but also due to anemias, hepatic disease, obesity, diabetes type II, pancreatitis and other serious systemic and neurological dysfunctions.”

Bayer is under fire for hiding the adverse effects of the anti-clotting drug, Trasylol, used in heart surgery, and will no doubt be hit with plenty of lawsuits in the not to distant future, considering that Dr Dennis Mangano, the lead author of new study in the February 7, 2007, Journal of the American Medical Association, says that the Trasylol may be responsible for 10,000 deaths over five years.

On December 15, 2006, the FDA announced new labeling for Trasylol, and said a study suggests that, in addition to serious kidney damage, Trasylol may increase the chance for death, congestive heart failure (a weakening of the heart), and strokes.

Because Trasylol is administered during surgery, many victims may not even realize they have been injured by the drug. But plenty have, according to Dr Mangano, who says that in 2006, Trasylol, was administered to 246,000 patients.

Another drug on the legal chopping block is the Parkinson’s drug, Permax. As far back as December 2002, doctors at the Mayo Clinic reported heart valve disease in 3 patients who had been taking Permax, similar to damage caused by the Fen-Phen combination.

In 2004, HealthDay News reported that a study had confirmed previous findings that the drug could damage heart valves and surgery would be needed to correct it. Two new studies in the January 4, 2007, New England Journal of Medicine, report that the number of Permax patients who have developed valve damage is higher than expected.

One study, which included 155 patients taking various Parkinson’s drugs, and 90 healthy patients in a comparison group, and found moderate to severe valve problems in more than 23% of the patients on Permax, compared to less than 6% in the comparison group.

The second study found Permax users were 5 to 7 times more likely to have leaky heart valves than patients taking other types of Parkinson’s drugs, and patients taking the highest doses of Permax had a 37 times greater risk.

“This is not a rare side effect,” says Dr Bryan Roth, a professor at the University of North Carolina, who wrote an editorial accompanying the reports in the NEJM.

“That’s an extraordinarily high incidence,” he warns. “That makes this a serious problem.”

Heart valve damage is a life-threatening condition and costly to treat. Replacement requires open heart surgery, where the breastbone is divided, the heart is stopped, and blood is sent through a heart-lung machine, according to the Texas Heart Institute. No drug can reverse valve damage, making replacement surgery the only option. Medical experts are advising all Permax patients to undergo testing for valve damage.

The drug was introduced to the US market by Eli Lilly, but Valeant Pharmaceuticals now sells Permax. On March 29, 2007, Permax was pulled off the market after the FDA reviewed new information that associates it with heart problems.

During the last 2 decades, the antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, have been prescribed for more unapproved uses than any other class of drugs in history. A June 2005, study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found that 75% of SSRI prescriptions written were for unapproved uses.

SSRIs have now been linked to suicidality, extreme violence and homicide, several life-threatening birth defects, abnormal uterine or gastrointestinal bleeding, a decrease in bone mineral density, fertility problems, sexual dysfunction, and a severe withdrawal syndrome.

On April 10, 2004, the British Medical Journal, criticized the authors of studies on SSRI’s for exaggerating the benefits and downplaying the harm, including suicidality, and discussed a study of 93 children on Paxil that produced 11 serious adverse events, including 7 hospitalizations, compared to only 2 in children in the placebo group.

The Paxil suicide risk is not limited to children. An August 22, 2005, study by Norwegian researchers of over 1,500 adults, found 7 Paxil patients attempted suicide compared to only 1 attempt in the group on a placebo, and recommended that warnings not to prescribe Paxil to children should also apply to adults.

According to Forest Lab’s Annual Report filed on June 14, 2006, the company is a named defendant in approximately 25 lawsuits, with the majority involving the company’s top selling SSRI drugs, Celexa or Lexapro, for inducing suicidality.

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in September 2005, by the Pogust & Braslow law firm in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, on behalf of the family of 32-year-old man who unexpectedly committed suicide soon after being prescribed Lexapro.

A steady stream of lawsuits have been filed against GlaxoSmithKline over Paxil, stemming from the company’s concealment of the drug’s link to suicide, birth defects, violence and withdrawal syndrome.

On March 23, 2006, the California-based Baum Hedlund law firm filed a national class-action lawsuit against Glaxo on behalf of the mother of an 11-year old Kansas boy who committed suicide, and a teenager in Texas who attempted suicide while taking Paxil.

She says, Baum Hedlund has documents obtained in litigation that show there was an awareness of the suicide risk as far back as the late 1970’s, a decade before the first SSRI was approved for sale in the US.

A new round of Paxil lawsuits began on October 16, 2006, when Baum Hedlund filed a case alleging that Paxil use during pregnancy resulted in an infant being born with a life-threatening lung disorder, PPHN. Between 10% and 20% of infants born with PPHN end up dying, even when they receive treatment.

On July 28, 2006, Baum Hedlund also filed a lawsuit on behalf of the parents of an infant who was born with congenital heart birth defects as a result of his mother taking Paxil during pregnancy. Since birth, the child has undergone 3 open-heart surgeries and will likely have to undergo more and possibly a heart transplant at some point in the future.

Based on the company’s legendary history of concealing adverse effects, the lead attorney on the case, Karen Barth Menzies, says believes Glaxo has known about these risks and should have warned prescribing doctors and consumers about these birth defects long ago.

The Houston law firm of Robert Kwok & Associates is handling a Celexa birth heart defects case in Kentucky. The mother was prescribed Celexa during pregnancy, and her baby was born with Shone’s Complex, a form of congenital heart disease that consists of defects that lead to the obstruction of blood flow from the heart to the body.

Legal analysts are predicting that SSRI makers will offer early settlements in cases involving birth defects to avoid having these families appear before a jury.

Pfizer is still being sued left and right over adverse effects related to the epilepsy drug Neurontin. In 2004, the company pleaded guilty to charges involving a massive off-label marketing scheme and agreed to pay the second-largest settlement ever in a health care fraud prosecution of $403 million. By 2002, a full 94% of Neurontin sales were for off-label use, according to the August 16, 2004 USA Today.

Many private lawsuits involve Neurontin-induced suicidality. The Pogust & Braslow law firm is handling a case for Natalie Biedenbender, whose husband committed suicide at age 39, after being prescribed the drug off-label for back pain.

“Although Neurontin is prescribed for scores of off-label indications,” Attorney Derek Braslow reports, “since 1999, the off-label use continues to be most common in the areas where the company focused its illegal marketing efforts, such as bipolar disorder, peripheral neuropathy, and migraine.”

Two lawsuits were recently filed against Novartis and Astellas Pharma, the makers of the topical skin creams, Elidel and Protopic, used to treat eczema. Alan and Dayna Thomson filed a lawsuit in December 2006 after their daughter Haley died after using Elidel, and Ashley McDonald filed a lawsuit in January 2007 after being diagnosed with lymphoma following her use of Elidel.

In another case, Traci Reilly, of Naperville, Illinois, developed breast cancer after applying Protopic and Elidel for a condition that caused patches of discolored skin on her breast.

Protopic and Elidel belong to a class of drugs known as calcineurin inhibitors, so called because they reduce immune activity by inhibiting the activity of the enzyme calcineurin in organ transplant patients. Use of these drugs has long been known to increase the risk of cancer, and the drugs were labeled accordingly for use in transplant patients.

Protopic and Elidel have only been on the market for about 5 years and together have already been prescribed to more than 7 million people. In 2006, the FDA added a black box warning to the skin creams about the cancer risk.

On February 21, 2007, Tom Moore, the author of several books on the pharmaceutical industry, told CBS News that he had studied about 1,200 cases of suspected injuries pertaining to Protopic and Elidel reported to the FDA through 2005 and found more than 100 potential cancer cases in children and adults, with most involving lymphoma or skin cancer.

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