Saturday, March 02, 2002

Judge faces spate of OxyContin filings in Butler Co. case

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Judge Michael J. Sage has a little light reading to do.

        About 10,000 pages have already been filed in a Butler County lawsuit involving the drug OxyContin, and lawyers in the case still may file more documents before a March 15 deadline.

        The judge's task may be tedious; the reading drier than the Mojave.

        But the case has significant implications, as the lawsuit seeks to represent all Ohioans who were allegedly harmed by being prescribed the powerful painkiller when a milder analgesic would have sufficed.

        The lawsuit is one of dozens filed nationwide against Purdue Pharma LP and others who made, marketed, distributed or sold the drug. OxyContin has been effective in relieving severe chronic pain of cancer patients. But critics say the drug was so aggressively marketed that it went to the wrong patients, who then became addicted, and some deaths have been blamed on overdoses of the drug.

        The Butler case seeking class-action status was filed by a group of attorneys that includes Cincinnati's Stan Chesley and Scott J. Frederick of Hamilton.

        “This drug has a place in pain management; we're not saying it should be removed from the market or they should stop manufacturing it,” Mr. Frederick said. “But if you start handing it out to people who have a pain in their knee, or their cervical spine or arthritis ... it's not for that.”

        At least 28 lawyers participated in a two-day hearing before Judge Sage this week. It could be weeks or months before he decides whether the case can proceed under class status — and, if so, what types of plaintiffs and specific claims of harm it can include.

        “It's not a "yes' or "no' question,” the judge said.

        David Cupps, a Columbus lawyer representing Purdue Pharma, pointed out that on Tuesday, a judge in federal court in London, Ky., denied class certification in an OxyContin case.

        But Judge Sage, who serves on an Ohio Supreme Court committee that writes rules of civil procedure, explained that Ohio laws on class actions differ from those used in federal court and in other states' courts. Therefore, federal and other states' cases could influence but do not necessarily dictate what happens in Ohio cases.


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