On Friday, the weight loss medication Meridia was withdrawn from the market after 14 years of availability.
Abbott Laboratories, the drug’s manufacturer, made the decision after a crackdown by the Food and Drug Administration, which had conducted a study revealing that the drug caused various heart problems in patients.
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Now those affected are beginning to seek legal action against the company.
“There should have been a very careful screening of anyone that went on Meridia,” said Richard Patterson, a partner with the Santa Clarita legal firm Owen, Patterson and Owen.
In the late 90s, the firm filed lawsuit for clients against American Home Products, now known as Wyeth, for the drug Fen-phen’s ability to cause damaging and sometimes fatal heart problems in patients.
Fen-phen was eventually withdrawn from the market, with legal damages totaling more than $13 billion.
“Meridia will not be as massive (of a litigation process) and will not be as difficult to control because there are fewer users of Meridia – probably not more than 100,000 at a given time.”
According to Patterson, the Fen-phen debacle caused such a big splash because nobody had prior knowledge of the risks associated with a weight loss medication.
“What is different with this drug than compared with Fen-phen is that there’s a history with Fen-phen,” said Patterson. “We don’t care if there’s not a smoking gun here on this case. We care that they had knowledge. Our position is that Meridia at least should have been a black box warning drug.”
The term “black box drug” is used to describe medications prescribed after a patient has had a face-to-face conversation with their doctor detailing each possible risk. The patient and doctor must physically tick off a black box for the various warnings, thereby agreeing to take the medication with full knowledge of its potential.
As per the black box warning for Meridia, Patterson says it should have been implemented upon hitting the market in 1997.
Despite the nationwide withdrawal of these weight loss drugs, Patterson doesn’t think their presence will ever significantly diminish.
“The demand for a pill you can to take resolve an obesity problem is probably emotionally and socially the single-greatest medical need as perceived by the consumer in the United States,” he said. “With that in mind, I think these companies will continue to search for something that doesn’t damage the heart.”
According to Patterson, the pharmaceutical industry is tightening their policies, faced with increasing pressure by the FDA and law firms.
“All the consumer can ask for and all that we’re pushing for is transparency, full disclosure, clear-understanding and ensuring that the patients have full knowledge of the side effects and the risks,” he said.
“And that’s not happening.”
Click here for more information about the Meridia recall.