$3.75B fen-phen settlement becomes final, claims can still be made

Friday, January 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ A $3.75 billion settlement for thousands of people who took the recalled fen-phen diet drug combination is now final because no one challenged it by last week's deadline, drug maker American Home Products said Thursday.

Until Jan. 2, plaintiffs or their health insurers could have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the settlement, which currently includes about 295,000 people. No one did so.

``That means the settlement is finally approved by the courts,'' said Doug Petkus, a spokesman for Madison-based AHP.

The company made Pondimin, the fenfluramine half of fen-phen, and Redux, a chemical cousin. About 6 million people took the drugs before they were pulled off the market in 1997 amid concerns they caused heart-valve damage in some patients.

Phentermine, the other drug in the combination, was not implicated in the problems.

Final court approval means people who used the drugs and want to file a claim must do so by August, according to attorneys for plaintiffs and the trust administering the settlement.

AHP, one of the country's biggest drug makers, has taken a total of $13.2 billion in charges to cover the settlement and lawsuits brought by plaintiffs who chose to pursue individual cases, company spokesman Lowell Weiner said.

As of Sept. 30, the company has paid about $11 billion to claimants, including some in the settlement, people who settled individually with the drug maker, those who won jury awards and dozens who developed a potentially fatal lung condition, Weiner said.

So far, the trust has paid out $591.6 million. That includes $531.4 million, or an average of $403,000, to 1,309 people with significant heart damage, said Joe Foley, the trust's chief financial officer.

Another $32 million went to 5,542 people who had minor heart valve damage and accepted $3,000 to $6,000 each to cover future medical costs.