Attorneys who take on the pharmaceutical industry as a voice for consumers injured by medications found an unlikely ally this week, in doctors. Noting that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is often “overwhelmed” by drug safety problems ranging from serious side effects to unsafe manufacturing facilities, editors of the New England Journal of Medicine said patients benefit from information uncovered by attorneys during liability investigations, according to an Associated Press report released Friday.

Journal editor Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen says the litigation process and the court system is a “key defense mechanism” to ensure drug safety and to obtain justice if drug manufacturers have not made the risks involved with its product clear.

The doctors say the FDA is incapable of being the sole guardian of drug safety and that without the information supplied by liability litigation, “the American public would be deprived of a vital deterrent against pharmaceutical company misconduct.”

The opinion was submitted to the Supreme Court as a friend-of-the-court brief in the matter of Wyeth v. Levine, a case expected to be heard later this year. According to the AP story, the case involves Diana Levine, a guitarist who lost her right arm below the elbow after an injection of Phenergan. She sued the drug’s manufacturer, Wyeth, alleging the company had not adequately warned consumers of the risks associated with its product. The case was tried in Vermont, and the court agreed, awarding Levine $7 million.

Wyeth is appealing the case, saying the FDA had approved the drug, and that the state court could not overrule the FDA’s judgment.

However, the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine sided with 47 state attorneys general and two former FDA commissioners in supporting Levine’s position, the AP report states.

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