(CN) – Thousands of people across the country blame the makers of Abilify for upending their lives due to the drug’s compulsive gambling side effects.
But instead of having their cases heard in their respective federal courts, the aggrieved will have their cases heard in a courtroom on Florida’s Gulf coast.
The reason lies in a recent decision by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, a special body appointed by the chief justice of the United States to handle civil litigation that encompasses two or more federal districts.
Last October, the panel transferred all federal lawsuits involving Abilify to Chief Judge M. Casey Rodgers of the Northern District of Florida, which is based out of Pensacola.
“I think she has a well-developed reputation of being a judge that is, number one, fair and, number two, very conscientious,” said Kristian Rasmussen, who was chosen by the panel to be one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Judge Rodgers also had some cases against Abilify pending already.
The panel’s decision allows the attorneys to avoid duplicating efforts during discovery and inconsistent pretrial decisions.
The other lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Gary Wilson, of Robbins Kaplin, said the decision to move the cases to Florida was agreed to by both sides of the dispute.
“It’s usually a battle over where the cases should go,” he said, “but in this case we agreed with the defendants and they agreed with us.”
So far, more than 100 cases are pending before Judge Rodgers. The complaints all blame Bristol-Myer Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company – the drug’s manufacturers – for failing to warn the plaintiffs’ of the impulse-control side effects related to the antipsychotic drug.
Bristol-Myer Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical began selling Abilify in the United States in 2002. Doctors can prescribe Abilify, also known as aripiprazole, for schizophrenia, depression and other mental health disorders. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, more than 1.6 million patients received an aripiprazole prescription in 2015.
For customers in Canada and Europe, the drug had warning labels cautioning users of the compulsive side effects. But not in the United States.
Bristol-Myer Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company did not return requests for comment.
Davis said the number of cases before Judge Rodgers will surely grow.
Last May, the FDA issued warnings about Abilify and the problems associated with its use. In addition to compulsive gambling, the FDA warned about over eating, excessive shopping and hypersexuality.
“This is a new idea for a lot of people since the summer,” Davis said.
Rasmussen of Cory Watson Attorneys said his Alabama-based firm already represents over 3,200 potential claimants. More than 6,500 have contacted his firm about the issue, he said.
The attorneys said the amount of people affected by Abilify shows the devastating nature of the drug.
“You have to understand just how devastating compulsive gambling can be,” Davis said. “There are a lot of people that have lost everything because of this.”
“I have heard countless stories that are eerily similar in that the person starting treatment has never gambled, or maybe every six months on a date night,” Rasmussen said. “And, unfortunately, what we are seeing is family after family, individual after individual, has had their lives destroyed after they began taking Abilify.”
When those affected stopped taking Abilify, the attorneys said, the behaviors stopped.