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Lawyer: Drugmakers knew vials led to contamination

Updated Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 | 3:22 p.m.

Sun Coverage

A lawyer for a husband and wife suing two drug companies over a hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas told a jury Thursday that company officials purposely sold large containers of an anesthetic to clinics despite knowing it might lead nurses to re-use and contaminate the vials.

Baxter Healthcare Corp. and Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. executives knew for years that single-dose vials of propofol were safer to use, but sold vials five times larger because they were cheaper to produce and led to more sales, attorney Robert Eglet said during opening statements.

Lawyers for the drug companies argue that other causes besides the size of the vials can be linked to the spread of the liver disease.

The trial that started Thursday - involving two married couples and another patient of the endoscopy clinics linked to the outbreak - is one of hundreds expected against the companies. A jury last year awarded the headmaster of a private school who contracted hepatitis C in 2006 $500 million in punitive damages. Baxter and Teva are appealing the decision.

In his opening argument, Eglet played snippets of video depositions from company executives who acknowledged hearing that doctors and nurses might be re-using the larger vials on more than one patient, despite labels marking them for single-patient use.

By dipping back into the vials, nurses and doctors opened the drugs to contamination from blood of other patients, he said.

"They knew that was going on, and they knew it for a long time," Eglet said.

It was not clear whether lawyers for the drug companies would be able to present their opening arguments Thursday. Court was delayed because one of the jurors showed up more than an hour late.

The case was delayed for months as the Nevada Supreme Court mulled whether a nurse could testify as an expert witness about the possible cause of the outbreak. The high court ruled she could testify about proper sterilization procedures, but isn't qualified to talk about the causes.

Dr. Dipak Desai, who ran the colonoscopy clinics, is facing 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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