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Citrus woman sues drug company

An Inverness woman has filed suit against Upjohn Co., alleging that she suffered bouts of depression, paranoia and forgetfulness after taking Halcion, a controversial sleeping pill.

Halcion, a prescription drug designed for short-term problems, has been used worldwide by millions of patients. Upjohn brought the product onto American shelves in 1983.

In recent years, though, many people have said that Halcion caused depression and drastic episodes of amnesia. The legal, scientific and regulatory communities have taken notice, and media coverage of the issue has been intense.

Into that fray steps Margaret Konupka, who started taking Halcion in 1989 to treat lasting effects from a leg injury she suffered on the job years earlier, according to her attorney, James A. Sheehan of St. Petersburg.

The results, Sheehan said, were disastrous. Mrs. Konupka would be depressed, paranoid, forgetful; the drug, she said, was the cause.

"She just wasn't acting properly," Sheehan said during an interview Monday.

Mrs. Konupka and her husband, Walter, filed their lawsuit in circuit court late Friday. They seek more than $10,000 for damages they have suffered as a result of Mrs. Konupka's use of the drug.

The couple declined to comment late Monday.

In their lawsuit, however, the Konupkas allege that Upjohn marketed its product before it completed proper tests. The manufacturer also failed to warn users about potential side effects, according to the four-page complaint.

The result, the Konupkas allege, is that Mrs. Konupka suffered side effects that led to physical problems, medical bills, loss of earnings and other pain and suffering.

Officials at the company in Kalamazoo, Mich., point out that Halcion's effects are similar to those of other, similar medications.

"There is a lot of negative media attention being paid to Halcion right now. People need to look at all members of a class of drugs," said Kaye Bennett, an Upjohn spokeswoman.

Bennett said many disorders blamed on Halcion could be a result of improper use of the drug or a failure to recognize deeper medical problems.

Still, to quell consumers' fears, the company in November agreed to market the drug in smaller doses and distribute thorough literature that explains Halcion's effects and side effects.

Britain decided to ban Halcion sales last year, citing, among other things, Upjohn's failure to completely disclose the drug's safety record, news accounts show.

In this country, at least one health watchdog group questioned Halcion's safety and effectiveness, the news accounts show. The federal Food and Drug Administration reviewed the case.

Just this month, President Bush stopped using Halcion in response to the public controversy. Bush had used Halcion when he traveled; he last used the sleeping pill to ward off jet lag during his January trip to Asia.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.