Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 18, 2013

Editorial: Time to reverse absurd drug immunity law


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Ask Theresa Hall and the more than 50 area individuals who received injections of a tainted steroid medicine if Michigan’s ludicrous immunity law for pharmaceutical companies makes sense for anyone but Big Pharma.

Last year Hall had three steroid injections to try to ease the paid of a pinched nerve in her back; the last came on Sept. 26 — the same day the manufacturer recalled the tainted medicine.

As time passed, her pain got worse, Hall said. “My toes went numb, my calf was numb, it hurt to walk, to stand. Any movement at all was really bad.” Any hope of getting back to work was gone, she said.

In December doctors diagnosed a fungal infection in her spine and since then she’s undergone a series of hospitalizations, testing, and medications — and hospital bills of more than $100,000, plus a $6,400-a-month antibiotic prescription.

Hall and more than four dozen other local individuals are considering suing New England Compounding Center, the company that created the tainted steroid.

They’re lucky — if that word can be applied to their situation — because as a compound drug, the steroid is not regulated and approved by the Federal Drug Administration. If it was, Hall and the others could not sue because of an absurd 1995 Michigan law — the only one of its kind in the nation — that gives pharmaceutical companies complete immunity from lawsuits that involve FDA-approved drugs.

The fact that the steroid that has apparently given so many Michigan residents fungal infections isn’t an FDA-regulated drug is pure chance.

When lawmakers approved the law, despite protests from the medical, legal and consumer protection communities, they had no way to foresee a situation like this one. They were gambling with the financial futures of Michigan residents who might be forced to sue over a bad drug, just as what has apparently happened here. If this had been an FDA drug people like Hall would have no chance to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in medical debts — debts incurred through no fault of their own.

The wave of infections in Michigan is a perfect hook for more rational lawmakers than those who approved the 1995 law to get Michigan back in line with the rest of the nation and undo the immunity law once and for all.

Drug companies don’t make bad drugs on purpose, but when it happens — and it does happen — Michigan residents should have the same opportunity to be protected from financial ruin as every other American.

Who do state lawmakers represent, anyway? Big pharmaceutical companies or Michigan residents? So far, Big Pharma has the edge