New Jersey Courts Asked to Centralize Singulair Lawsuits Over Suicides, Neuropsychiatric Injuries

With a growing number of Singulair lawsuits now being filed in New Jersey state courts, each involving similar allegations that the asthma drug caused suicides, depression and other neuropsychiatric side effects, an application has been filed to centralize and consolidate the litigation before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

Singulair (montelukast) is a popular asthma medication, which belongs to a class of drugs known as selective leukotriene receptor antagonists. It is widely used among both chidren and adults, involving a pill taken orally once a day to treat asthma, exercise induced asthma and seasonal allergies.

Although most consumers believe the medication is safe and carries few serious side effects, the FDA issued a drug safety communication in March 2020, announcing that the strongest label warning possible would be added about Singulair side effects, featuring information in a prominent “black box” about the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.

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According to allegations raised in a growing number of lawsuits filed over the past year, the drug maker Merck & Co. knew or should have known about the link between Singulair and suicides, yet failed to provide earlier warnings and information for consumers and the medical community. Most of the cases are being brought in New Jersey state court, where the drug maker’s U.S. headquarters are located.

On September 7, Acting Administrative Director of New Jersey Courts, Glenn A. Grant, issued a Notice to the Bar (PDF) indicating the state Supreme Court has received an application from plaintiffs to have all of the cases filed across the state consolidated as part of a multicounty litigation (MCL) and centralize all current and future claims before one New Jersey judge.

Centralization of the claims is intended to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial schedules from different judges and serve the convenience of the common parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

If consolidated before one judge, the New Jersey cases would work like a federal multidistrict litigation, but at the state-court level only. As part of the coordinated management of the litigation in New Jersey, the judge would preside over discovery into general issues that apply to all claims, and likely establish a “bellwether” process where a small group of cases are prepared for early trial dates, to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout other claims.

Singulair Suicide Concerns

The FDA first required warnings about behavioral and suicide side effects of Singulair in 2009. However, the March 2020 warning indicated the agency continued to receive data on the problems, both from an observational study using data from the Sentinel Distributed Database, as well as ongoing reports submitted to the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS). The agency first presented its findings at an advisory committee meeting in September 2019.

The FDA identified 82 cases of “completed suicide” linked to Singulair use at that time. The agency indicated that 45 of those cases involved patients older than 17 years old, 19 cases involved patients 17 years old or younger, and 18 cases where no age was indicated.

About 9.3 million patients received Singulair prescriptions in 2018, with 2.3 million of those given to children under the age of 17.

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