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Hep. C Outbreak Will Cost Drugmakers $162M

LAS VEGAS (CN) - Three pharmaceutical companies must pay $162 million in punitive damages for negligently distributing vials of the anesthetic propofol at the center of the 2008 hepatitis C outbreak in southern Nevada, a jury ruled Monday.

The jury's award in Clark County Court is on top of the $20 million in compensatory damages ordered last year against Teva Parenteral Medicines, Baxter Healthcare and McKesson.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs had originally sought $600 million in punitive damages.

After seven weeks of testimony, Teva was ordered to pay $89.4 million, Baxter was ordered to pay $55.3 million, and McKesson was to pay $17.9 million.

Lawyers accused the companies of negligently distributing 50 ml vials of propofol to clinics, though patients generally need only 20 ml vials.

Attorneys argued that the larger size led a doctor who ran colonoscopy clinics, Dipak Desai, to reuse the vials that potentially spread the disease in 2008.

Officials with the Southern Nevada Health District ordered 50,000 patients treated at Desai's clinics to be tested for hepatitis. At least nine were infected with the disease, The Associated Press reported.

Teva has vowed to appeal the decision, and a spokeswoman has reportedly blamed doctors and anesthesiologists for ignoring handling instructions and using "unsanitary practices."

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