Aug. 9, 2001 (Washington) -- In what is apparently a first, a
coalition of health-oriented consumer groups has filed a class-action lawsuit
against pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough. The complaint, brought to a New
Jersey state court, accuses the drug company of "deceptive advertising and
overpricing" for Claritin, America's most widely prescribed allergy
Whether it be an ad on TV, in print, or over the Internet, the
plaintiffs charge that Schering-Plough has falsely promised Claritin users
relief from their symptoms without drowsiness when relatively few benefit. The
suit covers the period from 1997 to the present and is the creation of
Prescription Access Litigation (PAL), an alliance of 53-activist groups around
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"The scale of Schering-Plough's misleading
direct-to-consumer advertising exceeds all others in American prescription drug
history," said lead plaintiff's attorney Tom Sobol at a news conference
announcing the suit. Sobol maintains that during the years under scrutiny,
Schering-Plough has spent more than $100-million annually to promote
Meanwhile, allergy sufferers have paid $10 billion during the
last four years for a drug that Sobol claims is little better than a "sugar
Some of Claritin's commercial images have become a part of
American pop culture, like the woman running through the field of yellow
flowers, seemingly oblivious to the onslaught of noxious pollens.
"Claritin television advertisements are replete with images
and references to celebrities [and] outdoor activities ... but ... devoid of
any reference to the limited efficacy of the drug," says Sobol. PAL
contends that Schering-Plough's own studies have shown the drug is effective
for only half its users.
Lisa Tyson, one of the plaintiffs, says she took Claritin for
more than five years and it did nothing. "My doctor was very clear, telling
me it was going to help me. And I just kept waiting and waiting for this thing
to help me, and it wasn't helping me," she says.
The suit has two basic goals: get the court to give consumers a
refund for the product and put an end to the allegedly deceptive ads, which PAL
says inflate rapidly rising drug costs. "Price is the key, and we believe
that our contribution is to attack price," says Stephen Rosenfeld, a legal
advisor to PAL. Drug inflation is the main thing that's preventing Congress
from passing a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, he says.
Schering-Plough spokeswoman Denise Foy says she can't comment
directly on the lawsuit, since she hasn't seen it. Still, she says the company
follows the FDA's rules on consumer ads. "Schering-Plough is committed to
full compliance with all regulations, pertaining to promotional and education
materials," Foy tells WebMD.
She also insists that the nonsedating antihistamine is the most
popular because it works. "No amount of marketing can sustain a drug that's
not effective," she says.