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Halcion Sales Plunge Amid Negative Publicity

November 14, 1992

DETROIT (AP) _ Sales of the sleeping pill Halcion have plunged dramatically since people began claiming the drug induced violence, and last week’s jury verdict against Upjohn Co. won’t help.

Upjohn maintains Halcion is safe and effective when used for short periods of time as recommended.

But many insomniacs apparently aren’t convinced.

″We still have solid support from physicians and pharmacists. But when people go to their physicians and say ‘don’t give me that,’ the physician will argue but won’t force you to take it,″ Upjohn spokeswoman Kaye Bennett said from the company’s Kalamazoo headquarters.

Halcion as recently as last year was Upjohn’s No. 2 selling drug, but it has fallen several notches under the onslaught of bad publicity.

Sales have dropped from $258 million for all of 1988 to $101 million for 1992 through September, primarily because of the ″unfounded fears and allegations these patients are seeing in these stories,″ Bennett said.

Company officials and pharmaceutical analysts say the worst impact of last week’s verdict in Dallas, whether it stands or not, could be the continued negative publicity.

Nonetheless, with $101 million in sales, ″we’re not looking at something being written off here,″ Bennett said.

Halcion, manufactured in Puerto Rico, costs Upjohn 10 cents to make per dollar of sales, making it extremely profitable, analysts say.

In the first civil trial over the drug’s alleged side effects, a Dallas jury ruled Thursday that Upjohn should pay the family of a convicted murderer up to $2.15 million.

Lawyers for William Freeman, former assistant police chief of Fort Stockton, Texas, convinced jurors that Halcion altered Freeman’s personality and partly was responsible for his 1987 killing of Donnie Hazelwood, his best friend. They claimed Halcion induced amnesia, psychosis and paranoia.

Freeman is serving a life prison sentence.

The jury also blamed Freeman and the doctor for the crime, so the actual damage award against Upjohn could be substantially less.

Upjohn says it will appeal what it considers a confusing ruling.

An undetermined number of similar lawsuits are pending across the country.

More than 2,000 cases of adverse reactions, including 49 homicides or attempted homicides, have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration since the drug’s introduction in 1982.

Several countries, including Britain, have outlawed or restricted the drug. Public Citizen, the private advocacy group led by Ralph Nader, asked the FDA in July to ban Halcion sales in the United States. An FDA panel in May said the drug was safe but should carry stronger warnings about potential side effects.

It is still the world’s most widely prescribed sleeping pill and is sold in more than 90 countries. But prescriptions have dropped 45 percent to 50 percent from September 1991 to September 1992, analysts say.

Upjohn’s patent on the drug expires next October. After that, generic drug manufacturers will be free to make the sleeping pill.

While the expiration of a patent for most big-money drugs can cause many manufacturers to lose up to one-third of their sales, the impact on Upjohn won’t be too painful, said Ronald Nordmann, an analyst with PaineWebber Inc. in New York.

″This is a lose-lose situation,″ Nordmann said. ″The sale of the drug is going to dry up well in advance of the patent, so it won’t be a big drug at the point it becomes vulnerable to generic competition.″

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