Within a Month of "Obscene" Adverse Verdict, Drugmaker Halts Production of Sedative

In the wake of two headline-grabbing hits to its image and to its wallet, Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries recently announced it will stop production of its sedative propofol, which many worry will intensify an already existing shortage of one of the most widely used anesthetics in the United States.

We here at Abnormal Use previously reported on one of these two potential catalysts to the halt in production here, where we evaluated the Nevada jury’s “insane,” “obscene” $500 million verdict against the drugmaker. Specifically, Teva and its co-defendant were hit last month with the biggest verdict in Nevada history in a case in which the plaintiff alleged he was infected with hepatitis C when nurse anesthetists administering the drug reused vials and syringes among patients already infected with the disease. Although Teva announced plans to appeal, approximately 250 other lawsuits reportedly have already been filed in connection with the hepatitis outbreak.

The other of the two negative events garnering attention from the press: the death of Michael Jackson. Propofol became “infamous” last year when the superstar died from an overdose of the anesthetic, in combination with other sedatives, which were administered by Jackson’s personal doctor to help him sleep. Although the doctor has since been charged with involuntary manslaughter, Michael Jackson fan pages still are following the Teva announcement closely (see here and here).

The effect of Teva’s stop in production will be widespread, as the president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists has said that propofol is used in at least 75% of anesthetics administered throughout the United States. Doctors like it because patients are able to wake quickly after procedures and side effects are rare. Few companies make it because of its highly complicated manufacturing process. With no U.S. companies producing the drug, the FDA has authorized importation of a version of the sedative approved in Europe.

Although there are no doubt a litany of issues considered by a drugmaker prior to its ceasing production of a particular medication, it’s unfortunate to see such an incredibly useful product withdrawn from needy markets as the result, at least partially, of two anomalous events such as these, neither of which has anything to do with an inherent defect in the drug.

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