A Dose of Denial: The PPA Litigation Story

Los Angeles Times A Dose of Denial
Los Angeles Times,
March 28, 2004.
reprinted with permission

How Drug Makers Sought to Keep Popular Cold and Diet Remedies on Store Shelves After Their Own Study Linked Them to Strokes by Kevin Sack and Alicia Mundy

Tracy Patton [a Robinson & Cole client] had just arrived at a community theater rehearsal in August 2000 when she felt such a searing explosion in the back of her head that it knocked her to her knees.

At the hospital in Louisville, K.Y., doctors said Patton, then 37, had suffered a catastrophic stroke, and they predicted she wouldn't survive the night.

Patton defied the odds. But nearly four years later, she is so overwhelmed by simple tasks that she must post a "personal hygiene checklist" in her bathroom to remind herself to brush her teeth and flush the toilet.

At 15, Tricia Newenham [a Robinson & Cole client] was full of promise when she suffered her stroke in October 2000 while hanging out in her bedroom with a cousin. A Down East Mainer from a family of woodsmen and lobstermen, she had been named her middle school's student of the year and was on track to become the first Newenham to attend college.

She spent a month in a coma, and emerged totally blind and profoundly mentally impaired. When reminiscing about her former self, about her prom dates and nights at the movies, she dissolves into inconsolable sobbing, condemned to remember just enough of what her life was like then to understand how much less it is now.

Only hours before these devastating strokes, each victim had washed down a seemingly innocuous over-the-counter cold medicine, one of billions of doses consumed annually nationwide. The medicines contained phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, the active ingredient in scores of popular nonprescription decongestants and diet aids until November 2000, when the Food and Drug Administration declared PPA unsafe and asked drug companies to stop selling it.

Tricia Newenham suffered her stroke the week before the FDA advisory committee met. As her neurosurgeon prepared to remove the damaged tissue from her brain, he warned her parents she might not survive. . .Tricia made it through, but she would never be the same. . .a settlement reached last year with Novartis will relieve [the family's] debts and cover the costs of Tricia's attendance at a school for the blind near Boston.