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Lawsuits Blooming In Wake Of L-Tryptophan Blood Disease Problems With AM-Tryptophan Recall,

March 22, 1990 GMT

Lawsuits Blooming In Wake Of L-Tryptophan Blood Disease Problems With AM-Tryptophan Recall, Bjt

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Randy Simmons is a quadriplegic because he tried what he thought was a safe, non-prescription food supplement to deal with pain and sleeplessness, his lawyers say.

The food supplement was L-tryptophan. The 41-year-old owner of a small accounting company is one of more than 1,400 people nationwide who contracted a rare blood disorder, eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome or EMS, after taking the product once touted in vitamin catalogs as ″nature’s tranquilizer.″

Researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control have recorded 19 deaths.

Simmons and dozens of others have sued retailers, suppliers and manufacturers of the amino acid, which has been on the market for years. Cases of EMS started showing up last summer, but experts say the problem previously may have been misdiagnosed.

CDC has reports of 1,411 cases in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. California has the most cases with 239. New York has reported 140. Twelve states have more than 30 cases. They are: Texas, 72; Ohio, 72; Florida, 71; Minnesota, 63; Oregon, 61; South Carolina, 53; Pennsylvania, 52; Arizona, 46; Washington, 43; Colorado, 38; Illinois, 38; and New Mexico, 33.

L-tryptophan was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration in November. On Thursday, Louis Sullivan, Health and Human Services secretary, issued a strong warning against continued use, calling the EMS outbreak a ″major public health problem″ and warning that even small doses of L-tryptophan could be harmful.

Simmons is surviving thanks to a machine that breathes for him and a feeding tube that runs into his stomach. He has limited use of his right arm and hand, but his mental faculties are sharp and he still has feeling in his body and limbs. His prognosis is uncertain.

″We’ve talked to quite a few of the lawyers handling these cases nationwide and we haven’t heard of another case as serious″ in an EMS survivor, said Arden Bradshaw, Simmons’ attorney.

Bradshaw has filed suit in Sedgwick County District Court seeking unspecified damages from six businesses - retail stores and their suppliers for brands of L-triptophan that Simmons took over the years.

Four to six Japanese manufacturers made the food supplement. Some investigators believe most of the people who have been stricken with EMS took L-tryptophan that can be traced to one manufacturer. The CDC has not pinpointed the source of the problem.

One lawyer handling L-triptophan cases, Gayle Troutwine of Portland, Ore., argues that Showa Denko Co. of Japan is responsible for the outbreak because its product became contaminated. A suit filed by Troutwine last month on behalf of Helen Jones, 52, of Portland also claims Showa Denko has refused to cooperate with U.S. officials investigating the supplement.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Shotaro Kawakatsu, a spokesman in Japan for Showa Denko, noted that the FDA was investigating the illness and said the company was awaiting the results of the study. Kawakatsu said his company had exported L-trytophan to the United States but declined to say how much.

Showa Denko is not named as a defendant in Simmons’ suit. Bradshaw said he is still doing research to determine what company or companies manufactured the products his client took.

L-tryptophan was touted as an aid for problems including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, tooth pain and depression.

Simmons began taking it about 2 1/2 years ago because he was having trouble sleeping, in part because of recurring pain from injuries suffered in a 1983 auto accident. Simmons found he was able to sleep better, but last September, he realized something was very wrong. He was losing weight - eventually, more than 80 pounds - and experiencing severe muscle pain.

Doctors looked for cancer, parasites and other diseases before finally diagnosing EMS, which is characterized by an abnormally high white blood cell count.

On Nov. 6, Simmons went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatments that included chemotheraphy and a blood cleansing process. He’s now back in a Wichita hospital; it hasn’t been determined whether the effort stopped his decline.

Linda Simmons, his 35-year-old wife, said her husband has been too ill to become angry about his situation. But she has fought depression and other problems as she struggled to take care her husband of seven years, their son, 3, and their daughter, 1.

″I’ve had a good deal of anger about it,″ she said. ″But there are no boundaries or definitions for what’s going on. What should I be angry at?″