Magazine article Drug Topics

Raising the Bar

Magazine article Drug Topics

Raising the Bar

Article excerpt

Will diet pill lawsuits test R.Ph.s' duty to warn?

he boundaries of the pharmacist's duty to warn patients about their medications will be stretched by lawsuits filed in the wake of last year's fen-phen health disaster, according to an Atlanta attorney representing diet pill plaintiffs.

There won't be a flood of lawsuits against R.Ph.s and pharmacies stemming from fen-phen and Redux, but the suits that are brought will seek to expand the R.Ph.'s duty to warn, said Guerry Thornton Jr., attorney with Thornton, Left & Elsner in Atlanta. He has already filed six diet pill-related suits, one of which includes a large chain. Another suit charges that the defendant diet pill center acted as a pharmacy and contracted with the defendant R.Ph. to dispense the drugs. And his firm is consulting in 16 states on about 185 cases involving Redux and the fenfluramine-phenteramine combo prescribed off label.

"The fen-phen litigation should help the evolving law in the area of the R.Ph.'s duty to warn patients of known risks related to their medical history, especially because it was off-label use and there were several contraindications for Redux and fen-phen," said Thornton. "For instance, they were supposed to be used only by people who were morbidly obese. If a pharmacist has someone who appears to not be in that category ... or who stayed on the drugs more than three months, he has a duty to warn."

Attorneys involved in diet pill lawsuits against pharmacists will have a "real challenge" in terms of proving an R.Ph.'s duty to warn about drugs being used off label, said James O'Donnell, Pharm.D., an Illinois consultant who frequently testifies as an expert witness. He is currently involved in a fen-phen suit against a pharmacist who, he said, had a duty to warn a physician that a woman given a Redux script had previously gotten sick on fen-phen.

"A pharmacist has no duty to warn of off-label use as long as the dose is not obviously toxic," said O'Donnell. …

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