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Originally published July 23 2012

Australian woman wins multi-million dollar payout from Thalidomide drug distributor Diageo

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) A woman in Australia won a multi-million dollar settlement recently from a British Big Pharma firm, Diageo Plc., a local distributor for the drug Thalidomide, which caused birth defects in thousands of babies around the world in the 1960s, according to her attorneys.

Lynette Rowe, 50, was born without any limbs - no arms and no legs - after her mother, Wendy, took the medication for just a single month when she was pregnant. At the time she took it, Thalidomide, a sedative, was being prescribed to mitigate the effects of morning sickness and for sleep.

Rowe's settlement is liable to open the door to future settlements by the drug company with more than 100 other Thalidomide victims in Australia and neighboring New Zealand, Reuters reported. They could be set to receive compensation through a class-action suit, said a spokesperson with the law firm Slater & Gordon.

The drug was actually developed and manufactured by German company Grunenthal, and was later licensed in Australia to the firm Distillers, later taken over by Diageo. The law firm said Grunenthal was not a contributor to the lawsuit.

MedlinePlus, an online drug information site hosted by the National Institutes of Health, listed the dire pregnancy-related warning about the drug: "Thalidomide must not be taken by women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant while taking this medication. Even a single dose of thalidomide taken during pregnancy can cause severe birth defects (physical problems present in the baby at birth) or death of the unborn baby."

Settlement is 'fair and equitable'

Relatives of Lowe were at least somewhat relieved by the settlement.

"Those pills that Wendy and thousands of women took 50 years ago have caused so much heartache and suffering, but at least something positive is now being done to put some things right," Lynette's father, Ian, said in a statement released by Slater & Gordon.

Rowe's settlement comes after a $50 million ($51 million US) payment Diageo agreed to make in 2012 to 45 victims of Thalidomide in Australia and New Zealand; they had sought help to cope with mounting medical and other care costs as they were living longer than anticipated.

"The approach announced today is both fair and equitable to all involved in this very sensitive and difficult situation," Diageo director Ian Wright said.

The Big Pharma firm had "agreed to a process that will explore resolution of as many of the remaining group claims as possible," he said.

The Australian cases are being watched closely in the U.S., where Big Pharma firms GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Avantor Performance Materials and Grunenthal have had complaints filed against them after several plaintiffs have claimed the drug directly caused their birth defects.

Other nasty side-effects come with Thalidomide use

Because of the drug's side effects, some countries - including Germany and Britain - long ago established compensation systems for Thalidomide victims, but no such support system was established in the United States. The drug was never approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use domestically, though clinical trials were conducted.

That said, Thalidomide is still in use today in the U.S.

"Thalidomide is used along with dexamethasone to treat multiple myeloma in people who have been recently found to have this disease. It is also used alone or with other medications to treat and prevent skin symptoms of erythema nodosum leprosum (ENL; episodes of skin sores, fever, and nerve damage that occur in people with Hansen's disease [leprosy])," says the NIH site. "It treats multiple myeloma by strengthening the immune system to fight cancer cells. It treats ENL by blocking the action of certain natural substances that cause swelling."

Other side effects include some that are severe: blistering and peeling skin; swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, or eyes; difficulty swallowing or breathing; fever, sore throat, chills, cough, or other signs of infection; and a slow (or fast) heart beat.

Sounds like something to avoid.


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