The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banning of propoxyphene-containing drugs such as Darvon and Darvocet could be one of the biggest drug stories of 2011, eclipsing the banning of the heavily marketed diet drug Fen-Phen, which was pulled from the market in the 1990s because it caused serious health problems. Because Darvon and Darvocet have been around for more than 50 years and had become one of the most prescribed painkillers in America, attorneys say lawsuits against propoxyphene-containing drugs could climb well into the thousands.
If Fen-Phen is any indication of the post-ban road Darvocet and Darvon will follow, Xanodyne, the makers of propoxyphene, can expect a bumpy ride. More than 50,000 product liability lawsuits had been filed by alleged Fen-Phen victims. Estimates of the total liability of Fen-Phen run as high as $14 billion with individual settlements averaging between $5,000 and $200,000. Wyeth reportedly said in 2005 that it had set aside $21.1 billion to cover the cost of Fen-Phen lawsuits.
Propoxyphene-containing drugs were pulled from the market late last year because of reports that the drug put users at risk for life threatening heart rhythm abnormalities. The drug has also been criticized by advocacy group Public Citizen because of the risk of overdose. The United Kingdom banned the drug six years ago and Europe followed suit more than a year ago. According to Public Citizen, at least 1,000-2,000 Americans have died from using propoxyphene since the UK banned the drug.