Drug Companies Win Two Supreme Court Decisions

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    Drug Companies Win Two Supreme Court Decisions






    Drug Companies Win Two Supreme Court Decisions
    By ADAM LIPTAK

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday handed drug companies two significant victories, one limiting suits from people injured by generic drugs and the other striking down a law that banned some commercial uses of prescription data.

    In the first case, Pliva v. Mensing, No. 09-993, the court split 5 to 4 along ideological lines in ruling that the makers of generic drugs — which account for 75 percent of prescriptions dispensed nationwide — may not be sued under state law for failing to warn customers about the risks associated with their products.

    Two years ago, in Wyeth v. Levine, the court decided the same question in the context of brand-name drugs but came to the opposite conclusion. That decision was based in large part on the fact that such drug companies can sometimes change the labels on their products without permission from the Food and Drug Administration.

    Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority on Thursday, acknowledged that in the eyes of injured consumers, the new distinction between generic and brand-name drugs “makes little sense.” But he said it followed from the way the two kinds of companies are treated under federal law.

    The manufacturers of generic drugs, he said, must use the same warning labels as the corresponding brand-name drugs, and they may not unilaterally alter those labels. That means, Justice Thomas wrote, that makers of generic drugs are caught in an impossible bind: they can comply with a state law requiring them to change their labels or the federal law prohibiting changes, but not both.

    Given that impossibility, federal law pre-empts state law under the Constitution’s supremacy clause, he wrote.

    In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the majority opinion invented “new principles of pre-emption law out of the air” and will lead to “absurd consequences.”

    “As the majority itself admits,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, “a drug consumer’s right to compensation for inadequate warnings now turns on the happenstance of whether her pharmacist filled her prescription with a brand-name drug or a generic.”

    The decision considered three consolidated cases brought by women who took generic metoclopramide, which is sold under the brand name Reglan. They took the drug for stomach ailments and developed a serious neurological disorder. Appeals courts ruled against the drug makers, saying that the federal regulatory regime did not block claims under state law.

    The Supreme Court reversed those decisions on Thursday, rejecting what Justice Thomas called the “fair argument,” that the defendants should have at least tried to persuade the federal drug agency to let them use a safer label.

    But the process of asking the agency to change a label, he wrote, can be as complicated as a children’s board game.

    “If they had done so,” Justice Thomas wrote of a possible request for a label change, “and if the F.D.A. decided there was sufficient supporting information, and if the F.D.A. undertook negotiations with the brand-name manufacturer, and if adequate label changes were decided on and implemented, then the manufacturers would have started a Mouse Trap game that eventually led to a better label on generic metoclopramide.”

    Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. voted with the majority.

    In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote that she agreed that the makers of generic drugs could not unilaterally change their labels. But she said that did not allow them to remain idle after learning of safety issues.

    “Had the manufacturers invoked the available mechanism for initiating label changes,” she wrote, “they may well have been able to change their labels in sufficient time to warn” the women injured by their drugs.

    The majority opinion, Justice Sotomayor said, may reduce the demand for generic drugs and put doctors in an ethical bind.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the dissent.

    In a second decision on Thursday, Sorrell v. IMS Health, No. 10-779, a six-justice majority of the court struck down a Vermont law that banned some but not all uses of prescription information collected by pharmacies.


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    The Supreme Court is a divided group and is making policy, not dealing with law. This is a pro-business, anti-consumer decision. Reglan did not have the correct labeling period. Instead, Thomas leads the majority to ignore some law for others. Their role should be to correct law not make it pro business. The drug reglan can cause tardive dyskinesia and docs usually warn patients about it before taking i.
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    Of course they did.



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    So sue the Brand name company for setting the precedent on the label which the generic company was forced to use.,.

    But "changing the label is as complicated as a Childs board game"shouldn't be an excuse for a generic company to shirk their responsibilities, especially knowing they are providing meds to people on Medicare/Medicaid and poor people....
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    Quote Originally Posted by maniclion View Post
    But "changing the label is as complicated as a Childs board game"shouldn't be an excuse for a generic company to shirk their responsibilities, especially knowing they are providing meds to people on Medicare/Medicaid and poor people....
    Exactly, "inconvenience" does not exonerate us docs, why should it exonerate the drug company, generic or not.
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    Court was wrong to give generic drugs pass on side effect warnings
    by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D

    Ruling that drug makers can't be sued for failing to list warnings violates spirit of the law — and endangers consumers

    The court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision that companies that make generic drugs, which account for close to 75 percent of all drugs dispensed in America, cannot be sued under state laws for not disclosing all the risks they know about the drugs they make.

    Federal law says that generic drug makers have to use the exact same warning labels as name-brand drugs. Some state laws require changes or updates as new information about drug risks are discovered. That happens because generics come into use many years after name-brand drugs have been available, or because generic drug makers get more information from doctors and patients about risk since so many more people take the generic versions. The court said they did not care what the generic manufacturer might know. State law has to yield to federal requirements and federal law says the warning labels must be exactly the same, new knowledge or not.
    Story: Generic drug makers not liable for failing to list side effects

    This makes no sense at all. The intent of the federal law was to make sure that generic drug manufacturers did not get cute with their labels and “forget” to mention risks known from the name-brand versions of the same drug. It was not to hide new knowledge about risk from you and me.

    This is one lousy decision. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote for the majority said as much. He acknowledged that drawing a distinction about disclosing safety data between name-brand and generic versions of the same drug surely “makes little sense” to those who might get hurt as a result. Still, even in the face of common sense, he and the majority decided to put on their blindfolds and adhere to a pedantic interpretation of the relationship between federal and state law rather than protecting your health and mine. This might get a round of applause in business circles, but it stinks as public policy.

    This horrid decision shouldn’t be the final word on setting the duties of manufacturers to warn those taking drugs about the latest and best information they have about risk. Congress should move quickly to amend federal law to make it clear that when it comes to disclosing risks, it should not matter who makes a drug.
    Story: Heiress's nurse inherits $30 million — but should she?

    The only thing that should matter is disclosing known risks about drugs on labels, websites and in communications to doctors. To do otherwise is to leave Justice blindfolded, unable to comprehend how the highest court in the land could not see clearly the need to protect consumers from harm.

    Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.


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