Friday, May 25, 2001

OxyContin class action filed

Complaint says information was withheld

By Amanda York
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two West Virginia men have filed a class-action lawsuit against the makers of OxyContin and the doctors who administered it to them. A law firm in Maine claims it will file another one in that state.

        Michael McCallister and William Duffield ffiled suit Wednesday in the Putnam County Circuit Court against Purdue Pharma, Abbott Laboratories and two doctors, Jimmy Adams and Donald L. Hoffman.

        Mr. McCallister and Mr. Duffield claim the companies withheld information from the public and medical community, encouraging the widespread use of the painkiller.

        The widespread use and abuse of the prescription drug has been seen recently in parts of Eastern Kentucky and Ohio, with other states including Virginia, Florida, Maine and Pennsylvania reporting increasing abuse as well.

        “OxyFest,” a massive February drug bust in Eastern Kentucky that resulted in more than 200 arrests, brought national attention to OxyContin. Greater Cincinnati law enforcement officials have said it is the most abused prescription drug in the Tristate.

        Frank M. Armada, one of the attorneys representing the class, now just the two men but expected to grow, said he thinks prescription of the drug for moderate pain management is a problem.

        “Unfortunately it has been prescribed for people with moderate pain, and that is where the real problem is developing,” Mr. Armada said.

        The synthetic narcotic can be prescribed for moderate to severe pain management and is administered in time-release pills.

        Abusers of the drug crush the pills, which come in dosages of 10, 20, 40, 80 and 160 milligrams, and then snort it or inject it for a heroin-like high.

        Purdue Pharma officials said the allegations have no merit.

        “We want the many thousands of patients in West Virginia receiving pain relief from OxyContin to rest assured that nothing in this case will cause us to abandon them or deter us from making sure our drug is available to them,” the company said in a statement released Wednesday.

        No OxyContin users from Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana have joined the West Virginia suit, Mr. Armada said.

        The lawsuit, which is the only one of its type filed, seeks unspecified damages and monitoring expenses. Monitoring expenses, Mr. Armada said, include expenses the defendants will incur in trying to overcome their addiction to the drug.

        Earlier this month, Purdue Pharma suspended shipments of its large-dose tablets, citing growing problems with abuse of the drug.

        The drug is often taken by cancer patients to deal with chronic and severe pain.

        “If you are terminally ill with cancer, it is a blessing,” Mr. Armada said. “It lets you sleep through the night.”

        But attorneys such as Gisele M. Nadeau in Portland, Maine, agree it is too often administered for what they called the moderate pain experienced with migraines and arthritis.

        Ms. Nadeau, who works for Lewis Saul & Associates in Portland, Maine, said her firm also was preparing to file suit against Purdue Pharma.


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