Women take on drug company

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 1999

Five Mississippi women who say they suffer from irreparable heart damage will take on a national drug company today in a Jefferson County courtroom.

Lawyers for the women, one of whom is a Jefferson County resident, say American Home Products Corp.’s fen-phen diet drug combination caused the plaintiffs heart damage, a charge that has also resulted in several other lawsuits against the company.

Many people took American Home’s fenfluramine-based Pondimin with the generic drug phentermine. The combination was intended to suppress their appetites, but some research has linked the drugs to heart valve damage and to the rare lung disease primary pulmonary hypertension.

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American Home Products has taken Pondimin off the market.

&uot;We think we have an excellent case,&uot; plaintiff’s attorney Roe Frazer said. &uot;The evidence is going to show that the plaintiffs took these diet drugs, and they have caused damage to their heart.

&uot;American Home Products knew, or should have known that. That’s why it’s not on the market anymore.&uot;

District 22 Circuit Court Judge Lamar Pickard will preside over the trial.

Frazer said he did not expect the case to settle, which would make it only the second fen-phen trial against American Home Products to make it to a jury verdict.

In August, a Canton, Texas, jury awarded 36-year-old Debby Lovett $23.3 million after she argued that the company knew the diet drug combination caused heart valve damage.

Other cases against American Home have been settled before a jury issued a verdict, with settlements reportedly ranging from $400,000 to $6 million.

Plaintiffs attorney Richard Schwartz said the Jefferson County case is the first fen-phen case in Mississippi to go to trial. State law allows an injury case to be tried in one county if at least one of the plaintiffs is from that county.

&uot;It would be silly to have five different lawsuits,&uot; Schwartz said. &uot;It saves time.&uot;

Holding the trial in rural Jefferson County gives it an impartial venue, Schwartz said.

&uot;I think Jefferson County’s going to be a venue that’s going to be fair to both sides,&uot; Schwartz said. &uot;I’m glad it’s there.&uot;

Schwartz said the trial will show American Home knew the drug combination could hurt dieters.

&uot;They did it all for profit. They killed people for profit,&uot; Schwartz said. &uot;That’s what’s going to come out.&uot;

Lawyers for American Home Products could not be reached for comment.