The London-based pharmaceutical manufacturer AstraZeneca will pay $198 million according to the Associated Press to settle roughly 18,000 U.S. lawsuits claiming that the drug Seroquel caused diabetes and other dangerous side effects. About eight thousand similar product liability lawsuits against the drug company are still pending in court.
Seroquel (generic name quetiapine fumarate) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The company is alleged to have marketed the drug for unapproved or “off label” uses such as depression or insomnia. In addition, they allegedly failed to issue appropriate warnings about serious side effects. Thousands of lawsuits brought by users of Seroquel allege the medication led to rapid, significant weight gain and diabetes, as well as depression. Some elderly patients with dementia have died after taking this drug.
In early 2010, AstraZeneca, which also manufacturers Nexium, paid $520 million to settle U.S. Justice Department charges that it overpromoted Seroquel. Still, the company may not be getting the message. Last month, for example, the FDA ordered the company to stop using a promotional letter for Seroquel XR that failed to contain a diabetes warning.
Global sales of Seroquel totaled a staggering $4.9 billion in 2009 according to the Wall Street Journal, the company’s second-biggest seller behind Nexium, and the fifth best-selling drug in the world. AstraZeneca, said to be the world’s sixth largest drug manufacturer in terms of revenue, has denied that it tried to sweep the side effect risks of Seroquel under the rug and says it remains “committed to a strong defense effort.” Not surprising. Many drug companies under fire for causing serious side effects routinely deny any wrongdoing.
While $198 million seems like a big number, the latest settlement works out to roughly $11,000 per case, which may be woefully inadequate to compensate the victims for their injuries. Let’s not forget, people may have developed diabetes because of this dangerous drug. That’s a condition that could remain with them for the rest of their life.
Most medications have some side effects, but there are times when the potential side effects outweigh any benefits for large numbers of patients. When that happens, patients injured by dangerous drugs have an undeniable right to receive compensation for their pain and suffering. Drug manufacturers will often try to deny responsibility for the harm their products cause and keep lawsuits from coming to trial as long as possible. Those efforts usually just delay final judgments for or settlements with patients.