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GlaxoSmithKline could face huge lawsuit

 
15:53 06 September 01

Ian Sample

 

The British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline could face claims for huge damages from people who say they suffered unpleasant withdrawal symptoms from the anti-depressant drug Seroxat. Seroxat, like Prozac, belongs to the class of drugs known as selective serotonin uptake inhibitors, used by millions of people around the world.

"This is a big one, not just in terms of liability, but in terms of GlaxoSmithKline's conduct and the standard of warnings they give - it'll raise all kinds of questions," Charles Medawar of the UK public interest watchdog Social Audit told New Scientist.

Last month, a group of 35 people filed a class action against the company at California's Superior Court in Los Angeles. But in the last week, the lawyers handling the case say they have taken around 1500 calls from people all over the world claiming to have suffered similar withdrawal symptoms after quitting the drug.

"We've had a lot from here [the US] and Canada, but we also got some from Australia, the UK and a lot from Ireland," said Karen Barth, the attourney dealing with the case for law firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Guilford and Schiavo in Los Angeles. "This could ultimately affect tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people," says Barth.

Alan Chandler of GlaxoSmithKline in the UK says the drug is safe. "It's been used for over nine years by 70 million people globally and it's been proved to be safe and effective," he says. "There's no reliable scientific evidence it's addictive or leads to dependency," he says. "Nothing was seen in original clinical trial work that prevented it from being approved by the US FDA [Food and Drugs Administration] and around the world."


Electric "zaps"

Medawar says legal action against the company could soon be taken in the UK too. "There's a London-based law firm currently reviewing two cases and they're due to reach a decision in weeks on whether they'll take action," he says.

Barth says the withdrawal symptoms range from sweating and anxiety to feelings of electric "zaps" in the brain and aggression. "We've even had people calling up whilst they're going through withdrawal in a really bad way - it's been an emotional time for people taking calls here," she adds.

Barth says the key complaint against GlaxoSmithKline is that the company knew the drug - known as Paxil in the US - had withdrawal effects, but failed to make these clear to either the regulatory bodies or general practitioners prescribing the drug.

"The principle complaint is that they refused to warn doctors about withdrawal effects," she says. "They knew about it and we have evidence from their own trials to show that."

GlaxoSmithKline rejects these accusations. Chandler points out that although GlaxoSmithKline is aware the action has been filed, it has yet to be served on the company. Barth says this is because one of the 35 already listed in the action is a minor who must be appointed a representative. The case should be officially served on GlaxoSmithKline in the US in the next few days, she says.

 
15:53 06 September 01
 

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