A family suing over the death of a prison inmate altered their lawsuit Wednesday to include a theory that her brain hemorrhage was caused by a decongestant pulled from shelves because of fears it caused strokes.
Virginia Brejcak, 42, suffered a seizure in her cell on Christmas Day in 2001 and died the next day at a hospital.
Her family sued in August, claiming Bucks County Prison officials ignored Brejcak’s complaints that she was suffering from seizures, headaches and a drug-resistant bacteria that has since sickened dozens of other inmates.
In their amended suit, Brejcak’s family further blamed her death on a cold medication prescribed by prison doctors about a month before her death.
According to the lawsuit, the drug contained phenylpropanolamine, which was widely used in appetite suppressants and cold medicines until 2000, when studies linked to a slightly increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke in young women.
Lawyers for the family said two doctors who cared for Brejcak and the pharmacy that provided the drugs should have heeded the Food and Drug Administration’s year-old warning that drugs containing phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, no longer be sold.
“She never had a chance,” said a family attorney. “She is covered with an infection. She is not getting treatment. She is not getting neurological consults, and she is getting this medication that is contraindicated, especially for women. It was a recipe for disaster.”
A spokeswoman for Bucks County did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday.
County officials had previously said that there was no evidence that Brejcak’s death was caused by methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a hard-to-treat and occasionally dangerous bacteria that can give its victims abscesses and boils.
Since the death, the jail has been struggling to stamp out the infection. Several current and former inmates and guards have also sued, claiming officials did not do enough to halt its spread.
Hundreds of people across the country have also sued pharmaceutical companies over phenylpropanolamine, claiming they suffered strokes after taking medications and diet pills containing it.
Many drug makers voluntarily removed phenylpropanolamine from their products following the FDA alert and some pharmacy chains stopped selling them, but doing so was not mandatory at the time of Brejcak’s death.
An autopsy concluded that Brejcak died of a brain hemorrhage, but did not indicate its cause. Brejcak, who had a history of seizures that predated her time in prison, had been serving a short jail term for a probation violation.