Contending that they have been harmed by prescription drugs, a group of Michigan residents is pushing to repeal the state law that prevents them from suing pharmaceutical companies. 

The group, called Drug Industry Immunity Must End, plans to travel around the state to drum up support.

Michigan is the only state that protects drug companies from lawsuits if the drugs in question were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Joan Girard of Burton, a member of the coalition, worked for General Motors Corp. in Lansing until several strokes forced her to retire. She said she has lost her short-term memory and some of her vision and suffers other ailments she believes were triggered by the painkiller Vioxx.

“I’ve lost my livelihood,” said Girard, 56.

The state’s 1996 law has come under scrutiny and criticism since Vioxx and other popular drugs have been pulled from the market because of health risks. Merck & Co. discontinued Vioxx last fall because of heart attack risks.

House Democrats said they will push to repeal the law by introducing legislation soon. The legislation would be retroactive.

But Republicans control the Legislature, and they want to make sure any changes strike a balance of protecting the Michigan economy and health care providers as well as protecting people if they are victims of unethical practices by drug companies, said Matt Resch, spokesman for House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi.

“We are going to keep an open mind at this point and see if changes need to be made,” he said.

Rich Studley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said Michigan’s current law permits lawsuits if companies have improperly influenced the FDA or acted to mislead consumers.

“Every medicine, even over-the-counter medicines, has risks and benefits,” he said. “As adults, consumers need to understand and accept that.”

Studley, said the law was designed to prevent frivolous lawsuits and that efforts to make a repeal retroactive are an attempt to open the floodgates and enrich trial lawyers.

But an organizer for the coalition said the group was trying to put Michigan back in line with other states. The group has 15 to 20 members and plans to recruit members across the state.

“Pharmaceutical companies are making billions on harmful drugs that have left people with overwhelming medical bills, lifelong disabilities and shattered lives,” said Linda Teeter, executive director of Michigan Citizen Action.

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