Law Firms Seek Users of Prempro - Northwest Women Consider Joining Class Action After Risks of Hormone Replacement Come to Light. - The Spokesman Review - July 26, 2002

By: Carla K. Johnson
The Spokesman Review
July 26, 2002

Law firms in Chicago, Houston and other cities are signing up clients for class actions against the maker of the menopause drug Prempro, and Inland Northwest women are considering joining the lawsuits.

Julene Allen, 55, of Spokane, lost both breasts to cancer in a double mastectomy one month ago. She took Prempro for eight years, first for menopause symptoms then to protect against bone fractures and heart disease, trusting her doctor that its benefits outweighed its risks.

She's angry and is considering joining a class action against the drug company Wyeth. "If I had it to do over again and knew the information I have now, I would choose to have a hot flash now and then rather than put something in my body that's going to cause cancer," Allen said Thursday. She was traveling that day to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle for a second surgery on her lymph nodes.

Two weeks ago, while still recovering from surgery, Allen learned that a large study of long-term hormone replacement therapy had been halted due to increased rates of strokes, heart attacks, blood clots and breast cancer. The drug in the Women's Health Initiative study was Prempro. Lawyers began filing suits just days later. Attorney Kenneth B. Moll said more than 3,000 women contacted his Chicago firm.

Three-quarters of them reported health problems that could make them part of a class action he's filed. "Even my mother called," Moll said.Other law firms preparing class actions over Prempro include Schiffrin & Barroway in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.; Stueve Helder Siegel in Kansas City and Ogletree Law Firm in Houston.Would-be clients can sign up on the firms' Web sites. One of the Internet sites is called premproclaims.com.

At least two of the lawsuits seek establishment of a fund to pay for mammograms and other health screening tests for millions of Prempro users. "Some people are saying it will be an uphill battle to determine the causation of individual claims," Moll said. "But what will be a slam dunk for us is the medical monitoring fund. Wyeth should have to pay for monitoring of users of Prempro."

Wyeth spokeswoman Natalie de Vane said the lawsuits are baseless. "We don't believe there is any legal or factual basis for the claims filed against Wyeth regarding Prempro and the Women's Health Initiative," she said. Prempro's package insert includes information on breast cancer risk, said Susan Cruzan, spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates prescription drugs. The insert was updated four years ago after another large study found the hormones did not prevent heart attacks and death in women with heart disease. Labeling will be reviewed again based on the newest study, Cruzan said.

Allen is not the only Spokane woman considering joining a lawsuit. A 64-year-old retiree, who asked to remain anonymous, said she will sign up. She underwent two surgeries and radiation after an October biopsy found breast cancer. She had taken Prempro for more than five years for menopause symptoms and to prevent fractures. Upon her cancer diagnosis, a doctor advised her to stop. "Why would they say that if it doesn't have to do with cancer?" she asked. "I think Prempro gave me breast cancer."

Spokane attorney Roger Felice, president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, said class actions allow clients to share the costs of a potentially expensive product liability case. He suggested that anyone considering joining a class action on the Internet research the law firm's track record with class actions and product liability.