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AULIN.... CLASS ACTION?!
04/05/2007 - Pensioner's death 'one of seven linked to painkiller that's on prescription'
ONE of Ireland's most commonly prescribed painkillers has been lniked to the deaths of seven people from liver damage.
The revelation came as a coroner yesterday halted the inquest into the death of an elderly widow after she heard claims that the Irish Medicines Board have details on file of six other similar deaths.
The IMB last night said it is "continuing to monitor this medicine".
However, despite the alarming revelation, the Irish Independent has learned that there are still no plans to withdraw the popular anti-inflammatory drug Aulin from sale.
The IMB is also reported to be closely liaising with the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) about Aulin/Nimesulide.
A 2004 European review of the drug ruled that its benefits outweighed its risks. But Cork Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane yesterday said she wanted to hear direct evidence from an IMB expert on the seven fatalities which are believed to be linked to Aulin.
The drug,s one of the most commonly prescribed painkillers by Irish GPs, is not licensed for sale in the United States, the UK, Australia, New Zealand or Scandinavia because of its reported links to liver damage.
Several countries, such as Portugal and Sri Lanka, which once allowed the sale of the drug, have since withdrawn the treatment.
Ireland is now one of a handful of EU countries which still allow the prescription of Aulin, which EMEA has banned for use on children aged under two years.
Dr Cullinane's decision to adjourn the inquest into the death of Joan Flavin (71), of Windy Gap, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, came as legal counsel for her family, Pat Gordon, referred to a letter he received from the IMB.
Mr Gordon said the letter referred to other recorded cases of fatal liver damage in Irish patients which were believed to be linked to the treatment.
"Six people have died in this country directly as a result of taking this same medication," he said.
Dr Cullinane said she did not have this information and immediately adjourned the inquest to allow submission of the IMB report and for an IMB expert to offer sworn testimony to the resumed inquest.
Two Cork consultants, Dr Orla Crosbie of Cork University Hospital and Dr Cristoir O'Suilleabhain of the Mercy University Hospital, told the inquest they were aware of medical studies which had linked the use of Aulin/Nimesulide with liver damage.
Both consultants had worked for a period in the UK and said they were surprised on their return to Ireland to see how widely prescribed the drug was.
Dr Crosbie, one of Ireland's top liver experts, had treated Joan Flavin when she was referred to CUH from the Mercy Hospital with acute liver failure.
"It is very likely that her medication with Nimesulide [Aulin] was responsible for her liver failure," Dr Crosbie said.
Ms Flavin died on September 10 last year, having been rushed to hospital on August 16 with nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and signs of jaundice.
The pensioner had been prescribed anti-inflammatory treatments - the last of which was Aulin/Nimesulide - as her osteo-arthritis condition began to deteriorate.
Ms Flavin is believed to have been taking Aulin for around eight months before her final, fatal illness.
In Mercy University Hospital a medical team led by Dr O'Suilleabhain found there was no blockage or surgical cause for Ms Flavin's problems. She was referred to CUH, when a liver biopsy showed evidence of major damage.
"It showed that her liver tissue was not functioning or was dead," he said.
The coroner adjourned the inquest, which will resume on May 31 with direct evidence from an IMB expert.
- Ralph Riegel
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