CA Zoloft class action not to be part of birth defect litigation

The Zoloft consumer class action lawsuit claiming that the SSRI antidepressant is no more effective than a placebo will not become part of the Zoloft birth defects MDL. According to Reuters news agency, the clerk of the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation determined that the consumer class action filed in California federal court was “not appropriate” for inclusion in the Zoloft birth defects multidistrict litigation (MDL) now pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The California Zoloft class action is Plumlee v. Pfizer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 13-414. Pfizer claims that it attempted to transfer the California class action to the MDL to promote judicial efficiency and avoid the possibility of inconsistent rulings between courts. Many attorneys and legal observers believe that the drug company is just trying to weaken claims that Zoloft causes birth defects by injecting the seemingly conflicting argument that Zoloft has no more effect than a placebo; if there are no Zoloft effects on the patient, there could be no Zoloft birth defects.

Of course, Pfizer denies that the drug has no effect on depression and criticizes research to the contrary. The drug maker cites FDA approval of Zoloft to treat depression and the drug’s more than 20-year history on the market as evidence that it is safe and effective. It’s reasoning is that doctors wouldn’t continue to prescribe Zoloft and patients wouldn’t continue to take it if the drug didn’t work.

The Zoloft class action is based partly on research conducted by a renowned Harvard Medical School psychologist who asserts that antidepressants including Zoloft provide no more benefit than the placebo effect. In contrast to the effects of medicines attributable the medicine itself, the placebo effect is a measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health or behavior not attributable to a medicine administered. The placebo effect occurs when a medically ineffectual “medicine” (often a sugar pill as a research control) has a perceived or actual improvement in a patient’s medical condition. The doctor’s belief and the patient’s faith and expectation, not the medicine, may cause the improvement.

The class action claims Pfizer knew that Zoloft had no more effect than a placebo and still marketed it to patients who suffered depression. The named plaintiff in the lawsuit alleges that she took Zoloft as prescribed for several years for depression but that her condition did not improve. The suit seeks refunds for California consumers who bought the drug.

The Zoloft birth defects MDL is In Re: Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 12-2342. Lawyers representing plaintiffs in the Zoloft birth defects MDL agree with the decision to prevent the Zoloft class action case from becoming part of the multidistrict litigation. The class action claims are very different in that they do not involve birth defects or any other physical injury. The Zoloft MDL involves claims that use of the SSRI antidepressant during pregnancy caused heart defects, PPHN and several other congenital birth defect injuries and wrongful death.

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