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First Pfizer Trial Ends Abruptly After Just Three Days

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The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had just begun trial this Monday, when, in a bizarre twist of events, the family of Susan Bulger dropped their lawsuit. The Bulger family originally filed the lawsuit against Pfizer because they believed the company’s epilepsy drug, Neurontin, contributed to Susan’s suicide. Susan was 39-years-old and took the drug beginning in 1999 before hanging herself in 2004. The family ultimately decided to drop the lawsuit in the midst of the trial after an anonymous donor—a plaintiffs’ lawyer that wasn’t involved in the case—offered to put money into a trust for Susan’s 10-year-old daughter.

According to papers filed by Pfizer, the company alleged that Bulger was “fraught with psycho-social stressors, including physical and mental abuse, long-term substance abuse and addiction to cocaine, heroin, Methadone and Oxycontin.” Nevertheless, the suit was merely one in about 1,200 involving Neurontin—Pfizer has been continuously accused of promoting the drug for unapproved uses and didn’t warn it could increase the risk of suicide until it was forced to do so by the Food and Drug Administration in December 2008. The next Neurontin trial is set to start on March 29 in Boston Federal court, while another case in Tennessee may be tried earlier. The chief executive officer of Pfizer, Jeffrey Kindler, stated that the company was “pleased to have been vindicated in this case”. However, Mark Lanier, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said that Kindler’s comments were “outrageous” and that “[a]ll Pfizer got today was a six-month stay of execution. We have 1,200 more of these cases to go.”

Prior to the spontaneous ending of the trial, a whistleblower that used to work for Pfizer’s Warner-Lambert unit as a medical liaison, testified that the company trained him “from day one” to market the drug illegally. Furthermore, he testified that he encouraged doctors to prescribe Neurontin for uses beyond those approved by the FDA and to essentially “motivate doctors to experiment”. In fact, the company created a "snake oil" list of 13 “ailments” that Pfizer’s epilepsy medication could treat. Consequently, Bulger was taking the medication for mood swings and arthritic pain, according to her medical records.