More than 100 lawsuits filed by people from throughout the country — who claim they or their loved ones have been hurt by the pain relievers Darvon and Darvocet and other drugs containing propoxyphene — have poured into the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Kentucky since August.
That's because U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves, who holds court in Covington, has been selected by a federal panel to refine the issues and streamline pretrial proceedings.
"It's basically in the interest of judicial economy so that multiple judges aren't handling the same issue," said deputy U.S. district clerk Susan Baker.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, no cases had originated in Kentucky, according to Baker.
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But that's sure to change, says attorney Richard Schulte of Dayton, Ohio, whose law firm is dealing with 2,000 cases or potential cases involving drugs containing propoxyphene, an opioid that has been used to treat mild to moderate pain.
Schulte says he knows of more than 8,000 cases or potential cases nationwide. He expects various state courts, as well as the federal court system, to handle the propoxyphene cases, he said.
"I'm going to file probably at least 1,000 cases," said Schulte, one of the lead attorneys in the battle shaping up in the federal court system.
He said 40 of his firm's cases or potential cases involved people who died after ingesting propoxyphene.
"Our issue is people took a bad drug that hurt people and they want to have their day in court," Schulte said. "We're looking for justice for our clients. You're not supposed to die when you take a pill for mild pain."
Newport-based Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals agreed late last year to withdraw Darvon and Darvocet from the U.S. market at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA informed manufacturers of generic products with propoxyphene of Xanodyne's decision and asked that they voluntarily remove their products.
The FDA sought the market withdrawal after receiving data showing that propoxyphene puts people at risk of serious or even fatal heart rhythm abnormalities. There had been complaints about the opioid for many years.
Eli Lilly and Co. developed Darvon, which received FDA approval in 1957, and Darvocet, which received FDA approval in 1972. Lilly sold the rights to the drugs to AAIPharma Services in 2002, and Xanodyne acquired the rights to the drugs in 2005.
The three companies and a host of manufacturers of generic drugs containing propoxyphene are defendants in legal battles involving propoxyphene, including cases now on file in the U.S. Eastern District of Kentucky.