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Class Action OK'd In Ohio Suit Over OxyContin

Jul 16, 2003 | AP

A lawsuit that accuses the makers of OxyContin of irresponsibly marketing the powerful painkiller to Ohioans can move forward as a class action, a state appeals court ruled.

The 12th Ohio District Court of Appeals on Monday affirmed certification of a class action on behalf of Ohio residents who say they were injured by the narcotic.

The court noted that it would be impractical for individuals to sue because more than 1 million prescriptions for OxyContin were filled in Ohio retail pharmacies between June 1998 and December 2001.

The appeals-court ruling affirmed the September 2002 decision of Judge Michael Sage of Butler County Common Pleas Court.

The lawsuit, which excludes people who obtained the drug illegally, accuses Purdue Pharma and Abbott Laboratories of marketing OxyContin for wide use "despite knowing that OxyContin was unsuited for most patients."

The companies have denied the allegations and argued that OxyContin should be challenged one person at time because users' situations vary.

Stanley Chesley, the Cincinnati attorney representing the plaintiffs, praised the appeals-court ruling.

"Class certification is the only way these victims will be able to fight the defendants and protect their rights," he said.

Chesley said the goal of the lawsuit was not to eliminate the sale and use of OxyContin but to hold the companies liable for the sale and promotion of the drug as a pain panacea.

"Purdue and Abbot knew that OxyContin was the equivalent of morphine, and yet it marketed OxyContin as if it were little more than a simple pain medication," he said.

The drug's package insert warns that OxyContin is "a controlled substance with an abuse liability similar to heroin." It also says it should be used only for "moderate to severe pain" that needs 24-hour control.

Tim Bannon, a spokesman for the Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue Pharma, said an appeal is planned. He also said the ruling addresses only the suit's class-action status, not the merits of its allegations.

"We remain confident that we will eventually prevail on the merits," Bannon said. Abbott Laboratories officials couldn't be reached for comment.

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