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Local Residents Learn Effects of Recalled Cholesterol Drug

Jan 26, 2003 | Enid News

Virginia Parrish ended up in the hospital about two months after she started taking a new cholesterol drug in 2000, but doctors were unable to diagnose what caused the weakness that left her unable to stand.

Parrish, 80, said she suffered from muscle pain, weakness and a variety of other symptoms for the 14 months she took Baycol, which manufacturer Bayer withdrew from the market in August 2001.

"I had just refilled it the day before they took it off," said the retired Enid resident.

Parrish attended a seminar Saturday at Best Western Inn because she wanted a medical explanation of what the cholesterol drug had done to her. It was sponsored by a pair of law firms representing people who took Baycol before it was taken off the market.

"It's a drug that never should have been put on the market because we didn't need this drug," said attorney James Belote of Stipe Law Firm in Oklahoma City.

Belote said there already were five other cholesterol-fighting drugs called statins available in 1998 when Bayer made Baycol available in the United States.

Dr. W. Wesley Mar-shall said Baycol caused a variety of side effects. The most severe is rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle cells that can be fatal.

All statins can cause that kind of breakdown, but it happens at a rate 10 times higher in people who took Baycol, he said.

Several hundred deaths worldwide have been blamed on the drug, Belote said.

Marshall said Bayer performed inadequate testing on the drug before it was made available to consumers, then officials were slow to warn doctors about harmful reactions experienced by some who took Baycol.

He said 2.3 million people worldwide took Baycol, including about 700,000 in the United States.

Belote said the drug company introduced a cheaper cholesterol drug to break into that market, which is driven by the fact more than half of all adults have high cholesterol.

Many people were forced to switch to Baycol from other statins because their insurance companies would cover only the cheaper drug, which accounted for $500 million in sales for Bayer in 2000, he said.

About 40 people attended Saturday's seminar to discuss health issues and their legal options.

At Marshall's urging, roughly two-thirds indicated they had taken Baycol, with about half of those suffering some kind of side effects from the drug.

One woman said she uses a cane because of the muscle loss caused by the drug, which sometimes left her weak enough she didn't get out of bed all day.

Another said she suffered similar symptoms despite only taking the drug for about a month.

Marshall said Baycol caused permanent muscle breakdown in many people who took the drug. Their only recourse is to build up muscle that is left.

Parrish has been able to overcome some of the drug's side effects, but she said many still linger, even though she isn't taking it or any other medication any longer.

Belote said complaints voiced at Saturday's seminar have been repeated by people all over the country who took Baycol.

"What you're telling us was experienced by thousands," he said.

As the seminar wrapped up, Belote urged people not to stop taking cholesterol medication. He said they should consult their doctor to discuss any health concerns raised by what they learned there Saturday.

Belote distributed legal documents that he said would allow his firm to pursue claims on behalf of people at the seminar, if possible.

He said it is important for people who took Baycol to decide soon if they want to initiate legal action because the statute of limitations likely will expire in August, two years after the drug was withdrawn by the manufacturer.

Belote didn't promise any results, but he said there wouldn't be any financial obligation for those who wish to investigate a claim against Bayer.

"If we don't make a recovery for you, you don't owe us anything," he said.

Belote said a number of different law firms are pursuing claims against the drug manufacturer.

"We think Bayer ought to compensate people who have been injured by their drug," he said.

Parrish and at least one other person at Saturday's seminar are pursuing claims with other attorneys.

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