Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2005
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2005 The Oregonian
Author: Steve Suo, Ashbel S. Green
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


The widow of an Oklahoma state trooper killed by a methamphetamine 
cook has sued Pfizer and other manufacturers of cold medicine, 
alleging the companies knew their products were widely used to make 
meth and failed to prevent it.

It is thought to be the first wrongful death lawsuit to accuse drug 
companies of negligence in the sale of products containing 
pseudoephedrine. The suit was filed last week by Linda Green, wife of 
Trooper Nik Green, in the rural Oklahoma county where Green was slain.

"She wants the companies to pay for what they've done, not just to 
Nik but to everybody," said Green's attorney, Gary J. James.

The suit names as defendants Wal-Mart, Walgreens and other retailer 
distributors along with manufacturers such as Pfizer, Leiner Health 
Products and Perrigo Co. Also named is Ricky Ray Malone, the man 
sentenced to death for Green's murder. James said a police search of 
Malone's home turned up sales receipts and packages of 
pseudoephedrine products made or sold by the defendants.

The lawsuit says the events that led to Green's murder "were not only 
foreseeable, but also a well-documented result of manufacturing, 
distributing and selling pseudoephedrine cold tablets."

Pfizer and other manufacturers did not return calls Tuesday, and 
officials at Walgreens and Wal-Mart declined to comment.

But Wal-Mart released a written statement saying the company is aware 
of the meth problem and has voluntarily limited its sales of 
pseudoephedrine products since 1997. Customers are now prevented from 
buying more than three packages.

"Wal-Mart supports efforts to curb the problem of methamphetamine," 
the company said. "This is an issue that affects the country, and we 
want to do our part to help.

Green's death on Dec. 26, 2003, helped ignite a national movement for 
tighter restrictions on the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine.

When Oklahoma's governor signed legislation four months later 
requiring customers to visit a pharmacy and show personal 
identification to buy cold medicines, the law was named after Green. 
Dozens of other states, including Oregon, followed Oklahoma's example.

According to evidence at the murder trial, Malone was operating a 
mobile meth lab along a rural roadside when Green confronted him. 
Malone wrestled Green's gun away, forced him to the ground and fired 
twice into the back of his head. Malone's attorneys argued he was in 
a meth-induced haze at the time.

Since Green's death, Linda Green has become known as an anti-meth 
crusader in Oklahoma. In May, she phoned in a tip to authorities when 
she saw a man buying items used to make meth at a Texas Wal-Mart. The 
man was convicted of illegally possessing pseudoephedrine after 
police found $1,000 worth of cold medicine in his car.

The lawsuit was filed at nearly the last possible moment under 
Oklahoma's two-year statute of limitations. James said Linda Green 
initially wavered because she didn't want to put her three children 
through the stress.

The small town of Oakman, Ala., filed a lawsuit in March seeking an 
injunction against the sale of products that contain pseudoephedrine. 
Minnesota's attorney general also said he was considering a lawsuit 
against the manufacturers of such products.

But the Oklahoma suit is believed to be the first to allege a link 
between a specific person's death and the producers of cold medicine. 
The lawsuit seeks at least $120,000 in compensatory and punitive 
damages, although James said the actual amount requested will be much larger.

The lawsuit alleges that the drug industry "chose to increase 
production and sales to exploit profits created by the skewed demand 
for pseudoephedrine." The companies, the suit says, "have known and 
should have known that a significant part of their cold medicine sale 
and profits are generated directly from drug addicts and street dealers."

The drug companies are accused of continually opposing regulations 
over their pseudoephedrine products, and the retailers are accused of 
refusing to market those products in a way that would have prevented 
Green's death.

The lawsuit also alleges that the drug industry has long known about 
the illicit use of its pseudoephedrine products and failed to 
introduce ingredients that cannot be converted to meth. Cited as an 
example is phenylephrine, a decongestant that Pfizer began using in 
its popular Sudafed brand in January.

Sudafed PE was introduced in response to new state regulations over 
the sale of pseudoephedrine, but phenylephrine has also been used for 
years in Europe.

"Well in advance of Trooper Green's death, a viable safe and 
effective alternative" was available, the lawsuit says. "However, the 
defendants deliberately refused to produce, market and sell the 
alternative in the United States until almost two years after Trooper 
Green's death."

The suit, which alleges the drug companies are financially 
responsible for violence stemming from illegal use of their products, 
echoes similar legal attacks on gun manufacturers.

Timothy D. Lytton, a professor at Albany Law School in New York, 
edited a 2005 book about suing the gun industry. Litigation claiming 
gun makers are to blame for gun violence has been largely unsuccessful.

Lytton said the pseudoephedrine suit sounded plausible, but many 
questions remained.

"Do you really buy this connection between the supposed negligence of 
the manufacturer and the shooting death?" he said. "Or are there just 
too many things going on here to plausibly hold the manufacturer responsible?"

Lawsuits claiming negligence by manufacturers of cigarettes, another 
legal product, have been more successful with large jury verdicts 
issued in recent years.

Bill Gaylord, an Oregon plaintiff's attorney who won an $80 million 
verdict against Philip Morris in 1999, said tobacco litigation is 
more straightforward than the case of pseudoephedrine.

Cigarettes are a product that kills people even when used as 
directed, and tobacco litigation has focused on establishing the 
manufacturers knew this in advance. Pseudoephedrine products are 
typically safe and effective when used as directed, and it is their 
illegal use that is linked to violence against a third party victim.
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