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Two drug manufacturers have been hit with a class action suit brought by consumers who took the heartburn drug Propulsid and say they were never warned that it can cause significant heart damage and has led to more than 100 deaths. Attorneys Gene Locks, Marc P. Weingarten and Stephen W. Wilson of Philadelphia’s Greitzer & Locks, joined by lawyers from five other firms, filed the suit against Johnson & Johnson Co. and Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc., both headquartered in New Jersey, seeking a medical monitoring trust fund and monetary damages. According to the suit, Propulsid came on the market in 1993 as a treatment for nocturnal heartburn due to gastroesophageal reflux disease, a disorder in which the muscles of the esophagus and stomach do not operate properly. Unlike previous heartburn aids, which suppress acid secretion, Propulsid was designed to help the sphincter of the esophagus to contract more tightly. When it was approved by the Food & Drug Administration, the suit says, the two manufacturers began to aggressively market the drug through direct advertising to consumers and “detail men” who promoted it among doctors. By late 1996, the FDA was criticizing the brochures used to promote Propulsid, saying they implied that acid suppressors were less effective and minimized the significance of potential drug interactions with Propulsid. By all accounts, the marketing campaign was a success. Propulsid has been prescribed more than 30 million times since 1993 in 89 different countries, according to the suit. But by 1998, the suit says, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen were both aware of reports that Propulsid was “cardiotoxic” and was causing heart-rhythm disorders and deaths from sudden cardiac arrest. The FDA issued warnings about the drug and in January 2000 issued more severe warnings that said patients should be given echocardiograms prior to taking the drug. By December 1999, the suit says, the FDA had reported 341 incidents of serious heart-rhythm abnormalities and 80 deaths associated with Propulsid. Since then, the suit says, another 23 Propulsid-related deaths have occurred. The suit accuses the manufacturers of failing to provide adequate warnings to consumers of the potential risk of heart disease. “Despite the drug having caused more than 100 deaths over the last seven years, defendants did not immediately withdraw Propulsid from the marketplace,” the suit says. Instead, the company announced in March that it would eventually stop marketing Propulsid but did not stop distributing the drug until July 14 and allowed it to be sold in pharmacies until mid-August, the suit alleges. The suit includes claims of negligence and breach of express and implied warranty, as well as claims under the consumer protection laws of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Joining the Greitzer firm as co-plaintiffs’ counsel are Steven E. Angstreitch and Michael Coren of Levy Angstreitch Finney Baldante Rubenstein & Coren; Sol H. Weiss of Anapol Schwartz Weiss & Cohan; Christopher Placitella, Angelo John Cifaldi and Barry R. Sugarman of Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge, N.J.; David Jacoby of Tomar Simonoff Adourian & O’Brien in Cherry Hill, N.J.; and Allan Kanner of Allan Kanner & Associates in New Orleans. The case is Denney v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., 00-cv-6411.

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