After her family dropped its lawsuit in the midst of trial, Pfizer Inc. won’t face a lawsuit over claims its epilepsy drug Neurontin helped lead a Massachusetts woman to commit suicide,
Susan Bulger’s family agreed to dismiss the suit after an anonymous donor offered to put money in a trust for her 10-year- old daughter, Regina, said Mark Lanier, the family’s lawyer. The trial began July 27 and was scheduled to run three weeks in federal court in Boston.
The suit was the first of about 1,200 involving Neurontin. The family claimed Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company, promoted the medication for unapproved uses and didn’t warn it could increase the risk of suicide until forced to do so by the government. Pfizer said Bulger had a history of drug abuse and had made six suicide attempts before taking her life in 2004.
The next Neurontin trial is set to start March 29 in Boston federal court, while another case in Tennessee may be tried earlier, Lanier said. The lawsuits claim Pfizer should have warned patients and doctors that Neurontin can increase suicidal thoughts.
The anonymous donor was a plaintiffs’ lawyer who wasn’t involved in the case, said Lanier, a friend of the donor’s.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December required all makers of epilepsy drugs, including Neurontin, to add a suicide-risk warning to their labels. Pfizer contends there is no link to Neurontin use and suicide.
The Bulgers’ lawsuit was “a very tough case” for the plaintiffs because of her “personal history,” U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris in Boston said in a July 20 pretrial hearing.
Bulger’s family, of Peabody, Massachusetts, sued Pfizer and its Warner Lambert unit in August 2007, more than three years after Bulger’s husband and daughter, then 4 years old, found her body in their basement. Ronald Bulger said he gave his wife four Neurontin pills an hour before she killed herself.
The family claimed Pfizer’s marketing of Neurontin for unapproved, or off-label, uses played a role in her doctors prescribing the drug. Bulger took the drug, approved to treat epilepsy, for mood swings and arthritis pain.
Warner-Lambert paid $430 million in 2004 to resolve off- label marketing allegations involving Neurontin by the U.S. Justice Department. Pfizer said the settlement involved actions before the company bought Warner-Lambert and Bulger’s doctors didn’t prescribe the drug because of off-label marketing.
Her doctors prescribed Neurontin because it has been shown to help with pain, isn’t addictive and has few side effects, Pfizer lawyer William Ohlemeyer said at trial.
The prescriptions were “based on the doctors’ background and experience and not what Pfizer or Warner-Lambert told them,” he said.
The case is Bulger v. Pfizer Inc., 1:07-cv-11426, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston). The suit is part of In Re Neurontin Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL 1629.
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