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Nothing arouses the plaintiffs bar like an independent report linking a popular drug to serious health problems. But even the most ardent drug litigators are toning down their excitement in the wake of an April study — and a follow-up FDA investigation — linking Viagra and other impotence drugs to a rare form of blindness. Since the study was announced, only a few firms — mainly from the East Coast — have registered Viagra Web sites. And Jennifer Stanich-Banmiller, president of the Danville, Calif., plaintiff marketing firm Wingtip Communications, said she has so far seen only tepid interest from lawyers. “I don’t think it’s going to have a lot of steam unless there’re lots of people out there” suffering sex drug-related blindness, she said. One experienced drug litigator has a theory why. “People feel burned by Viagra because they went after it when it first came out with heart attacks,” said Mary Alexander, a San Francisco plaintiffs lawyer who’s litigating claims over Vioxx, diet drugs and estrogen therapy. Since those initial suits were largely unsuccessful, Alexander said, many California plaintiffs lawyers seem wary of the new charge. Indeed, one of the state’s most aggressive pharmaceutical lawyers said Viagra’s barely on his radar screen. “At least not yet,” said Ramon Lopez, of Lopez, Hodes, Restaino, Milman & Skikos in Newport Beach. “I’m just kind of looking at it.” But he nevertheless assumes it’ll look pretty good to a plaintiffs attorney. “Anytime you get news of a post-market adverse event that is as serious as blindness, heart attack, stroke, the first thing you expect is that the company already knew about the problem,” he said. It seems that the only lawyer gung ho about California Viagra suits is Daniel Becnel Jr., a well-known Louisiana lawyer who last week filed what he believes to be the first Viagra blindness suit in Texas. Becnel says he has at least 92 Viagra clients, including several — he wasn’t sure how many — who plan to file suit in California. “I’m about the biggest game and the only game in the country right now,” he said. “Everybody seems to be overloaded by Vioxx.” That’s true for William Audet, a partner in Alexander, Hawes & Audet’s San Francisco office. “We’re extremely busy with Vioxx,” he said. But Audet and Alexander agree that because Viagra is linked to a very specific form of blindness — a “signature injury,” Audet said — the cases have potential. While California lawyers like Audet and Alexander wait to decide whether to pursue Viagra cases, Becnel says his caseload is increasing by the hour. “I’d say they’re coming in at a rate of eight to 10 a day,” he said, adding that people from all over the country seem concerned. Viagra has been insanely popular since it first hit the market. Any potential patient would want the drug’s benefits, Becnel said. “But not if it’s going to make me blind.”

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