Abilify Lawsuits Over Gambling Problems Likely to Mount As Parties Await MDL Hearing

In response to a joint request filed last week to consolidate and centralize all Abilify gambling lawsuits brought throughout the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has rejected a request to set an expedited hearing, meaning that the future of the litigation will likely not be considered until a hearing in late September.

There are currently more than two dozen lawsuits over Abilify impulse control problems pending in U.S. District Courts nationwide, including claims for damages caused by compulsive gambling, shopping, eating and sexual activity. However, that number is expected to increase dramatically before the U.S. JPML decides whether to consolidate the cases are part of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) and transfer the litigation to one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

In a minute order issued this week, the U.S. JPML denied a joint request to consider centralization of the Abilify litigation during the next scheduled hearing on July 28, in Seattle Washington. The Panel indicated that it “considers all motions in due course and is not pursuaded to depart from its long-standing practice.” Therefore, oral arguments will likely be set for the following hearing date, set for September 29 in Washington, D.C.

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Abilify (ariprazole) is one of the top-selling brand name medications on the market in the United States, generating sales in excess of $6 billion per year, and widely used by millions of Americans for treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other major depressive disorders. It is also widely used off-label to treat irritability, aggression, mood swings and other behavior issues.

The litigation has emerged in recent weeks amid reports suggesting that side effects of Abilify increase the risk of compulsive behaviors, leading to lawsuits alleging that Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. knew about the risk, yet failed to warn consumers and the medical community about the importance of monitoring for signs and symptoms.

One of the most recent lawsuits was filed by Richard and Courtney Campbell on June 30, raising allegations that mirror those being presented in other claims. According to the complaint (PDF), Richard Campbell began exhibiting compulsive gambling behaviors after he started taking Abilify in July 2013. However, he did not realize the link between his activity and the medication. When he discontinued the drug in 2015, the compulsive urges to gamble stopped, but the couple indicates that they have suffered significant financial losses and other consequences of compulsive behavior that may have been prevented if warnings had been provided.

Despite placing gambling warnings on Abilify if a number of other countries, no information was provided to consumers or doctors in the U.S. until last month, when the FDA required the drug maker to update the warning label and add information about the link between Abilify and gambling problems.

The lawsuit, and others like it, say that the manufacturers, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., knew for years about the risks of compulsive behavior linked to Abilify, which claims indicate also includes sex addiction and binge shopping, but failed to provide adequate warning to patients and the medical community in the U.S., despite placing such warnings on Abilify products sold in Europe and other countries.

“Defendants wrongfully and unjustly profited at the expense of patient safety and full disclosure to the medical community by failing to include language about gambling in the United States labeling and by failing to otherwise warn the public and the medical community about Ability’s association with gambling—despite opportunities and a duty to do so,” the lawsuit filed by the Campbells states. “As a result, Defendants have made significantly more revenue from Ability sales in the United States compared to Europe.”

The new warnings recently required by the FDA will now provide information to users of Abilify and doctors about the large number of adverse event reports involving uncontrollable urges to gamble, as well as engage in other potentially dangerous activities, such as uncontrollable shopping, eating or sexual activity. Consumers are encouraged to speak with their physician if they notice these impulsive behaviors, as symptoms typically stop shortly after the medication is discontinued.

If the U.S. JPML established centralized pretrial proceedings, Campbell’s case and all others filed at the federal level will be centralized before one judge coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings. The process is designed to avoid duplicative discovery into common issues, eliminate conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

By the time the motion to establish an Abilify MDL is considered, it is likely that more than 100 claims will be pending nationwide. However, as Abilify injury lawyers continue to review and file additional complaints in the months and years to come, it is widely expected that the litigation may eventually include several thousand lawsuits.


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