Earlier this week, one more chapter of the extensive fallout of 2008’s infamous Las Vegas hepatitis C contamination fiasco, which was actually reported on this blog, came to a close. In case you don’t remember, the case involved one Dr. Dipak Desai who exposed possibly a hundred patients to bloodborne disease in his 3 endoscopic clinics by re-using propofol vials and encouraging their re-use as policy. Several patients who contracted hepatitis C have subsequently launched a massive lawsuit campaign against the clinics and the manufacturers and distributors of the drug, propofol.
In all of the cases against the 3 companies, the lawyers for the plaintiffs have argued that they implicitly encouraged the re-use of their medication by supplying propofol in bulk, 50 mL vials when they knew that endoscopic procedures performed by Dr. Desai usually take 10-20 mL. Through these practices, Teva and by association the distributors of propofol, Baxter and Mckeeson, sought to increase their profits while ignoring the ethical implications of what they were shipping and how it was being used. While the drug companies argue that they aren’t liable because nothing was defective in their product, which could have been used safely for different procedures, courts have disagreed and all 3 have lost a number of cases with verdicts in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Realizing defeat, the three companies have decided to settle 41 of these cases for a currently undisclosed sum of money, though Teva alone has apparently set aside $285 million for settlements. This entire case raises some interesting questions, in particular “Who is to blame for this outbreak?” Clearly Dr. Desai and his colleagues performed the most flagrant ethical violations and blame rightfully belongs with them, but are the drug companies at fault for turning a blind eye, or is such irresponsible abuse unpredictable by a product manufacturer?
(Recent settlement –February 24, 2011)
(Sort-of recent article about Dr. Desai’s trial)