Wednesday, October 10, 2001
Trial venue will be decided later
Plaintiffs drop doctor from OxyContin suit
The lawsuit was moved to U.S. District Court on the grounds that none of the defendants is a Virginian.
By LAURENCE HAMMACK
THE ROANOKE TIMES
A doctor accused of overprescribing OxyContin was dropped Tuesday from a $5.2 billion lawsuit alleging that excessive promotion of the prescription painkiller has created a scourge of addiction in Southwest Virginia.
A second physician, along with OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma of Connecticut, remain as defendants in the case.
Four residents of Southwest Virginia claim in the lawsuit that they got hooked on OxyContin - either through proper use or misuse - after Purdue Pharma heavily promoted the drug as an effective painkiller while failing to warn of its highly addictive side. A fifth plaintiff claims she was forced to take in her grandchildren after their mother became addicted.
Although the lawsuit was filed in Lee County Circuit Court in June, attorneys for Purdue Pharma had it transferred to U.S. District Court in Big Stone Gap on the grounds that none of the defendants is from Virginia. Lawsuits involving parties from different states are generally heard in federal court.
Hoping to have the case sent back to Lee County, the plaintiffs' attorneys decided to drop Dr. Shireen Brohi from the suit after learning she is not a Virginia citizen.
Brohi, who works for Merritt Medical Group in Russell County, is a citizen of Pakistan who was practicing medicine in Virginia under a work permit. "We had assumed that anyone who had been in the country as long as she had would be a citizen," Abingdon attorney Emmitt Yeary said.
Brohi declined to comment Tuesday.
Her removal from the case does not resolve the question of where the lawsuit will be heard. Purdue Pharma, which favors a venue in federal court, says that the second doctor named in the lawsuit, Richard Norton, practiced in Scott County but actually lived in nearby Kingsport, Tenn.
Norton is now a resident of a federal prison in South Carolina, where he is serving five years in connection with a fraud scheme at Lee County Community Hospital.
The plaintiffs' attorneys are seeking to add a company owned by Norton, Physician Access Inc. of Scott County, as a defendant in the lawsuit. William Eskridge, an attorney for Purdue Pharma, called that a "sham" designed solely to get the case back in state court.
Because OxyContin is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and is subject to federal law, Purdue Pharma maintains that the lawsuit should be heard in istrict ourt. Yeary said that it's more expensive to try cases in federal court, which gives an edge to large corporations such as Purdue Pharma.
U.S. District Judge James Jones said Tuesday that he will rule later on the issue of where the case will be tried.
Purdue Pharma, which faces at least 13 similar lawsuits in other states, has called the allegations baseless. The company says any problem with the drug is caused by addicts who crush the pills into a powder that is snorted or injected for a heroin-like high.
Police in far Southwest Virginia say that crime has skyrocketed in the past three years as the result of OxyContin abuse. There have been at least 55 fatal overdoses since 1997 in which the drug's active ingredient was the primary cause of death or a contributing factor, according to the state medical examiner's office.