HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html OxyContin Suits Dismissed
Pubdate: Thu, 19 Aug 2004
Source: Roanoke Times (VA)
Copyright: 2004 Roanoke Times
Author: Laurence Hammack
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


Drugmaker Purdue Pharma was still questioned in Judge James Jones' opinion.

OxyContin abuse may have ruined individual lives, families and even entire
communities, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, but there is insufficient
proof that the victims include Charles Brummett, Joseph Deckard and A.F.

Judge James Jones dismissed lawsuits in which the three Southwest Virginians
claimed that OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma overpromoted the
prescription painkiller while ignoring its risks - rendering them addicts
while reaping billions in sales.

Although other judges across the county have dismissed OxyContin lawsuits,
Jones took the unusual step of inserting a personal observation into a
39-page opinion filed in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.

"As a trial judge hearing criminal cases, I am unfortunately all too
familiar with the human misery caused by the abuse of prescription drugs,
particularly including OxyContin," Jones wrote.

"Lives wasted, families disrupted, communities devastated, because of misuse
of these drugs. Did Purdue oversell OxyContin, for its own profit? Does the
relief afforded by high-dosage opioids to those with severe, life-altering
pain outweigh the risks of harm from addiction?

"These cases do not answer those questions," Jones wrote, granting Purdue
Pharma's request to dismiss the lawsuits filed by Brummett, Deckard and

The men claimed they became drug addicts after relying on OxyContin to ease
their pain from the back-breaking jobs of coal mining and construction. But
because all three used other opium-based drugs, a jury would not have been
able to determine whether it was OxyContin alone that caused their
suffering, Jones ruled.

Had the case gone forward, the plaintiffs' attorneys would have argued that
Purdue Pharma sales representatives went overboard in the company's
aggressive promotion of OxyContin, misleading doctors to believe the drug
was less addictive than other painkillers.

Even assuming that allegation is true, Jones said, there is still no basis
on which to conclude the company or its drug caused the plaintiffs to become
addicted. All three men took multiple drugs, and Brummett and McCauley
illegally supplemented their prescriptions with OxyContin they bought on the
streets, according to William Eskridge, an Abingdon attorney who represented
Purdue Pharma.

Tim Bannon, a spokesman for Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, said the
company shares the judge's compassion for those who have suffered from
prescription drug abuse.

"But we also have great compassion for the people whose suffering is
relieved by the proper use of prescription drugs," he said. Those legitimate
pain patients might have have been unduly alarmed by the "great fanfare"
that accompanied the filing of the lawsuits three years ago, Bannon said.

After promising to make a $5.2 billion lawsuit a class-action case,
plaintiffs' attorney Emmitt Yeary of Abingdon appeared on "Good Morning
America" to denounce the actions of what he called a corporate drug lord.

"We can't help but wonder how many [legitimate pain patients] were
frightened by the sensationalist strategy the lawyers took at the beginning
of the case," Bannon said.

Since the first OxyContin lawsuits were filed, 121 have been dismissed or
withdrawn across the country, Bannon said. Another 377 are pending,
including at least others in Southwest Virginia.

Many of the lawsuits have been filed in rural areas of Appalachia, which
Jones noted in his opinion as being particularly hard-hit by prescription
drug abuse. "The latest and most devastating player in this epidemic has
been OxyContin," the judge wrote.

Police in far Southwest Virginia have blamed soaring crime rates,
overcrowded treatment centers and broken families on abuse of the
painkiller, which has been dubbed "hillbilly heroin" by some.

More than 140 people in Western Virginia have died from overdoses of
oxycodone, OxyContin's active ingredient, in the past five years, according
to figures from the state medical examiner's office in Roanoke. Purdue
Pharma has said overdoses attributed to its drug have been exaggerated.

Doug McNamara, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents Brummett, Deckard,
McCauley and others who have sued pharmaceutical companies, said he believes
that under the right circumstances, an OxyContin lawsuit will prevail.

"They will have a day of reckoning at some point," McNamara said of Purdue
Pharma. "Hopefully it will be in the near future."
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