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Halcion Caused Law Officer to Kill, Lawsuit Says; Drug Company Fights Claim

October 7, 1992

DALLAS (AP) _ A widely prescribed sleeping pill caused a former police official to kill his best friend, a lawyer contended Wednesday as the first civil lawsuit against the drug’s maker went to trial.

Dozens of cases pending against The Upjohn Co. blame the drug Halcion for side effects such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and aggression that could lead to violence.

William R. Freeman, formerly assistant police chief in the western Texas town of Fort Stockton, is serving a life prison term for Donnie Hazelwood’s slaying in 1987. But Freeman would not be there were it not for the drug, said his attorney, Randy Johnston.

″I am convinced that when the evidence is in, you will consider that Mr. Freeman’s family deserves to be compensated for the pain, humiliation and tragedy inflicted on them by this drug,″ Johnston said in an opening statement.

Freeman, his wife and four children filed the $5.5 million lawsuit against the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based company in 1989, the same year he was sentenced to prison.

An attorney for Upjohn, Richard L. Josephson, said that Halcion didn’t come up before jurors in Freeman’s criminal trial. And he said a psychiatrist who examined Freeman determined he was competent to stand trial. Rather than being victimized by Halcion, Freeman abused other drugs and alcohol, he said.

Johnston said Freeman began drinking and taking drugs after injuring his back while on police duty in 1984. That injury required surgery.

″The man was in pain, disabled from his job and he drank,″ Johnston told the jury, adding that Freeman received Halcion for more than two years as a result of his injuries.

Now, he said, the Food and Drug Administration will not allow patients to take even half the Halcion dosage that Freeman was prescribed by a Dallas doctor and two others.

The drug caused Freeman to become paranoid, lose his memory and behave abnormally before shooting Hazelwood in the head, according to a document filed in the lawsuit.

The product liability and negligence case contends Upjohn failed to provide adequate warnings for Halcion and failed to inform Freeman and his doctors of dangerous side effects.

Halcion, known by the generic name triazolam, has been reviewed by the FDA several times since it was approved for use in the United States in 1982. It is marketed in more than 90 countries.

Criticism of the drug has resulted in its prohibition or restriction in several countries, including Britain.

An advisory panel of medical experts said in May the drug was safe and effective. But it recommended stronger warnings about its possible psychiatric side effects.

The trial is expected to last about three weeks.

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