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Drug company lawyer: Clinic at fault for hepatitis C outbreak

Updated Friday, Aug. 19, 2011 | 1:39 p.m.

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A lawyer for one of two drug companies being sued over a hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas said Friday that clinics - not drug manufacturers or distributors - were responsible for the spread of the disease either by misusing an anesthetic or not cleaning medical equipment.

Attorney Mark Tully for Teva Parenteral Medicines Inc. told a jury during his opening statement in Las Vegas that the propofol shipped to the clinics where the disease was found was manufactured and delivered without any defects.

"Whatever happened at the clinic happened solely at the clinic," Tully said.

The clinics either misused vials of the drug on multiple patients with dirty needles and syringes or didn't properly clean other equipment for colonoscopies and other procedures, he said.

On Thursday, the lawyer for a couple suing Teva and Baxter Heathcare Corp. said in his opening statement that the companies sold larger vials of the drug even though executives knew they were less safe and used improperly by some medical professionals.

Tully countered on Friday by saying that the vials are clearly marked for use on one patient each, and that it sold the larger vials because that's what the market dictated. A smaller vial didn't sell as well, and wasn't any more safe than larger vials if nurses used them improperly, Tully said.

Hospitals and clinics "make the decisions about what sizes, what types - they make the decisions about how to use them," Tully said.

Teva and Baxter hope to convince a jury that the packaging of their product didn't contribute to one of the largest public health notifications in history - when officials in southern Nevada told more than 50,000 patients treated at two centers to get tested for HIV and hepatitis C in 2008.

The trial is one of hundreds expected against the companies. In another trial last year, a jury awarded a man and his wife more than $500 million combined in punitive damages from the two companies. Baxter and Teva are appealing the decision.

The trial that started Thursday is expected to last roughly two months.

Dr. Dipak Desai, who ran the colonoscopy clinics, faces 28 state felony charges stemming from allegations that needles and vials were improperly used during endoscopy procedures, as well as federal conspiracy and health care fraud charges. Desai surrendered his medical licenses last year and is currently being evaluated for mental competency after suffering several strokes.

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