NC Senate mulls immunity for drug companies

Posted March 29, 2012 6:18 p.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2012 7:12 p.m. EDT

— A state Senate committee is considering a proposal that would block lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies over drugs that were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Drugmakers say they need protection from frivolous lawsuits, but doctors and others say the prospect of giving the companies immunity puts profits above people.

"We don't want any other family to have to suffer through something like this," Carolyn Prewitt, whose granddaughter died in 2006 from blood clots in her lungs, said Thursday..

Brittany Prewitt, 15, was taking the drug Yaz to clear up her acne and collapsed while playing catch with her father. The family is suing Bayer, claiming the company suppressed information about dangers associated with Yaz.

Under the proposal being considered by the Pharmaceutical Liability Subcommittee of the Senate, such suits would be barred in North Carolina. The only exception would be for a plaintiff who could prove a pharmaceutical company lied to the FDA to get a drug approved.

Critics of the bill say that's nearly impossible to do.

Dr. Wayne Welsher, a heart surgeon, told lawmakers that he has watched some patients die from a drug he gave them before the company that produced the drug finally admitted its risks.

"I can't even imagine, as a physician, as a patient, as a Republican, as an American, how we would even begin to assume that a drug company should be above the law. It makes no sense," Welsher said.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said an immunity law could cost the state millions of dollars because it wouldn't be able to share in national settlements over bad drugs.

Gary Salomido, vice president of government relations for the North Carolina Chamber, said pharmaceuticals a big business that the state cannot afford to lose because of an unfriendly business climate. Texas, Michigan and New Jersey already have immunity laws for drug companies.

"The adoption of the language (in the proposal) will illustrate North Carolina's commitment to the bioscience industry and to a culture of innovation," Salomido said.

The Senate committee meets again next month to hear more testimony.