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February 16, 2001-Patients Join Heartburn-Drug Case

February 16, 2001-Patients Join Heartburn-Drug Case

A group of lawyers filed class-action lawsuits in two Kansas counties this week demanding medical exams and other services for patients who took a heartburn drug linked to deadly heart problems.

The drug, Propulsid, is used by an estimated 30 million people nationwide. The manufacturer voluntarily withdrew it from the market last year after 80 patients had died. The suits ask that the drug's maker, Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc. of Titusville, N.J., and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, N.J., pay for periodic examinations to Missouri and Kansas patients who took the drug. The suits also ask the companies to pay for a registry of Propulsid patients and research on their health problems and to notify them of risks associated with the drug. The suits seek damages of less than $75,000 per patient.

"At minimum, they need an EKG (electrocardiogram). We have some concern they may need more than that," said the Kansas City lawyer who is part of the group filing the suits. Janssen spokesman Greg Panico said the medical attention demanded was not needed. Propulsid stays in the body for just a short time, Panico said. "Any adverse outcomes occurred while taking the drug, so (long-term) medical monitoring would not be necessary," he said. Panico said he was not familiar with the Kansas City area lawsuits, but a similar suit seeking medical monitoring of Propulsid patients was filed in New Jersey in November.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned in January 2000 that Propulsid could cause irregular heartbeats and even sudden death. It told doctors to prescribe the medicine only as a last resort and only to patients who first received heart tests to ensure that they were at low risk for side effects. Two months later, Janssen announced it was withdrawing the drug from the market, effective last July 14. The company continues to make the drug available to some patients with serious gastrointestinal diseases, Panico said.

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