Governor's Allies Propose Legal Immunity for Drug Makers|
Georgia Online News Service
ATLANTA – Four state senators are proposing civil immunity for drug and medical device companies that have a major presence in Georgia.
Two of Gov. Sonny Perdue's Administration Floor Leaders were among the sponsors: state Sens. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) and Bill Heath (R-Bremen).
Senate Bill 101 applies to companies that have a U.S. headquarters, a substantial research and development or manufacturing facility, or more than 200 employees in Georgia. If the bill becomes law, the companies cannot be sued in if their Food and Drug Administration-approved products prove defective.
"I think that's a horrible bill," says Allison Wall, executive director of the state's biggest consumer watchdog group, Georgia Watch. "It doesn't take a lot of research to realize that there've been a lot of pharmaceutical and medical device products that have had FDA approval and that have been proven to cause life-threatening side effects,"
In 2004, pharmaceutical maker Merck withdrew its FDA-approved arthritis drug Vioxx from the market after studies associated it with increased heart-attack risk. More recently, the FDA decided to require new warnings with some approved anti-depressants to indicate that they may increase suicide risk.
But for Perdue, "the legislation will make Georgia an even more attractive environment for biotechnology companies," according to comments he made at a January address to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
He framed the legislation as showing "respect" for the role of the FDA.
But the legislation comes as the FDA is taking a black eye by failing to prevent a salmonella outbreak that began in the Peanut Corporation of America facility in Blakely. The Georgia Department of Agriculture also inspected the facility, but the FDA is considered the country's ultimate food-safety guarantor.
An example of a company that would be covered by this bill is Marietta-based Solvay Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Belgian pharmaceuticals and chemical giant Solvay.
Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion. [full bio]