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Neurontin Suicide Trial to Start Next Week

Jul 24, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

The first Neurontin suicide lawsuit is set to go to trial.  According to a report on Bloomberg.com, about 1200 similar Neurontin lawsuits are pending.

Neurontin was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1983 to treat partial complex seizures.  The drug quickly became a blockbuster, and by 2004, sales reached $3 billion per year.  Neurontin was made by Parke-Davis, a division of Warner-Lambert, which was acquired by Pfizer in 2000.

The first Neurontin lawsuit will begin July 27.  According to Bloomberg.com, the lawsuit was filed by the family of Susan Bulger, 39, who took the drug before hanging herself in 2004.

The lawyer representing Bulger's family said he will expose Pfizer’s “seedy” handling of Neurontin during the trial, Bloomberg.com said.  The lawsuit alleges the company hid the drug's suicide risks. The plaintiffs' case will focus on last December's decision by the FDA to order all makers of epilepsy drugs to add a suicide-risk warning to their label.

As we reported at the time, the new warnings resulted from the FDA’s review of 199 clinical trials of 11 antiepileptic drugs which showed that patients receiving antiepileptic drugs had almost twice the risk of suicidal behavior or thoughts (0.43 percent) compared to patients receiving a placebo (0.24 percent). This difference was about one additional case of suicidal thoughts or behaviors for every 500 patients treated with antiepileptic drugs instead of placebo, the agency said.

According to Bloomberg.com, the lawsuit claims Bulger was taking Neurontin to treat epilepsy, as well as mood swings and arthritis pain.  The promotion of off-label uses of Neurontin played a role in Bulger being prescribed the drug, her family's lawyer maintains.  While doctors may prescribe an approved drug in any way they see fit, drug makers may not promote off-label uses.

As we reported previously, in 2004 Warner-Lambert pled guilty and agreed to pay $430 million to resolve charges that it had illegally promoted the off-label use of Neurontin.  The charges stemmed from a federal whistleblower lawsuit that had claimed Neurontin marketing was promoting off-label uses, including the treatment of pain and bipolar disorder.


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