Not too long ago we were asked what we thought about warning claims involving medication guides.   Our off-the-cuff reaction was that such suits have been occasionally filed over the years, but were largely unsuccessful in achieving the plaintiffs’ primary goal, which almost always was to avoid the learned intermediary rule.

That was our gut reaction, but since we also have to feed the blog, we decided that the question warranted a closer look.

First, a little on the current regulatory status of medication guides, which are also sometimes referred to as “patient package inserts,” or “patient brochures.”  They are “FDA-approved patient labeling conforming to the [Agency’s] specifications.” 21 C.F.R. §208.3(h).  Such guides were authorized by the FDA in 1998 under 21 C.F.R. §208.1, which states:

(a) This part sets forth requirements for patient labeling for human prescription drug products, including biological products, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines pose a serious and significant public health concern requiring distribution of FDA-approved patient information. . .

(b) The purpose of patient labeling for human prescription drug products required under this part is to provide information when the FDA determines in writing that it is necessary to patients’ safe and effective use of drug products.

(c) Patient labeling will be required if the FDA determines that one or more of the following circumstances exists:

(1) The drug product is one for which patient labeling could help prevent serious adverse effects.

(2) The drug product is one that has serious risk(s) (relative to benefits) of which patients should be made aware because information concerning the risk(s) could affect patients’ decision to use, or to continue to use, the product.

(3) The drug product is important to health and patient adherence to directions for use is crucial to the drug’s effectiveness.

Emphasis added.  See also 21 C.F.R. §208.24(a) (“The manufacturer of a drug product for which a Medication Guide is required under this part shall obtain FDA approval of the Medication Guide before the Medication Guide may be distributed”) (emphasis added); 21 C.F.R. § 201.57(c)(18) (requiring all “FDA-approved patient labeling” to appear in the “Patient counseling information” section of drug labeling).

We added all this emphasis to underscore the point that requiring a medication guide – as distinguished from what it might say − is another of those decisions that requires FDA pre-approval.  See Bartlett v. Mutual Pharmaceutical Co., 2010 WL 3659789, at *5 (D.N.H. Sept. 14, 2010) (“FDA may require that a drug be accompanied by a medication guide”) (citing §208.1).  As we’ve explained elsewhere, a mandate for FDA pre-approval such as this calls into play the Mensing/Bartlett impossibility preemption rationale, since a hypothetical state immediate tort duty to include a medication guide would conflict with the federal agency preapproval requirement.  Bowdrie v. Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., 909 F. Supp. 2d 179, 186 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (finding preemption because “a specific FDA directive, is a necessary predicate to . . . any medication guide”).


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