What would you do if you were advised to stop taking drugs?
You'd probably assume we meant heroin and quickly point out that you don't drugs. Fair enough, but that's not what we mean: we're talking about prescription drugs.
The World Drug Report produced by the UN in 2014 showed that over 19 million Americans are hooked on opiods like morphine and Oxycontin. In the UK, with around 1.06 billion prescriptions written out every year (20 prescriptions a year per patient), the epidemic is just as bad. Let's face it, the West has a pill popping problem.
Surprisingly, many doctors agree that meds may not always be the best option. So why prescribe them? Doctors claim they feel pressured to prescribe patients a drug, just to feel as though they are doing some good. Sounds crazy, right?
Then there are the whistle-blower's reports that show that many pharmaceutical companies make it worth the doctors while to prescribe their own pills. Add these two scenarios up and and you'll begin to see the bigger picture.
The situation is even more chilling when you realize that not all these drugs have been cleared for sale. In 2011, Johnson & Johnson admitted to bribing European doctors to prescribe their drugs to patients. The company was ordered to pay $70 million in civil and criminal fines.
There's more. The following are nine lawsuits currently being faced by some of the largest pharmaceutical companies and involving some of the most common drugs around.
4 Yaz - Birth Control Pill
Yaz (also known as Beyaz and Yazmin) is a birth control pill manufactured by Bayer and heavily marketed to women under 35. As a combined oral contraceptive pill, it is supposed to prevent ovulation from occurring, thus curbing female fertility.
Its main ingredient, Drospirenone, has been found to induce high potassium levels in the blood. Elevated potassium levels increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, a potentially fatal condition.
It has also been found to increase the danger of developing blood clots by up to seven fold. Despite these risks, Yaz has quickly become one of the best selling birth control pills in the market. Slick advertising and implied benefits such as mood lifting and weight loss have convinced many women to try it out.
When the dangers of drospirenone were pointed out, the FDA didn't order an immediate recall. They instated a committee to look into the findings. The only problem was, four of the committee members had financial ties with Bayer, which they all failed to disclose.
At the moment, over 10, 000 people have filed Yaz lawsuits against Bayer, who have paid out over $750 million so far.
3 Nuvaring - Contraceptive Ring
This once-a-month contraceptive ring was introduced to the US in 2001, by Dutch pharmaceutical Oragnon (now Merck). Possessing a dual mechanism of action, it quickly became popular among women. It works by releasing low doses of progestin and estrogen over a three week period. This prevents ovulation from occurring. It also limits the penetration of sperm cells. Plus, the fact that it's only used once a month made it really popular.
Despite looking like the Holy Grail of contraceptives, many users have duffers from severe side effects. The company highlighted only the minor side effects like headaches and nausea. But, they failed to educate users on severe ones like an increased risk of blood clots which can lead to heart attacks, deep vein thrombosis and stroke.
In 2008, lawsuits were filed by women who claimed to have developed blood clots after using the drug. There are currently over 1,700 lawsuits against Nuvaring.
The company is accused of failing to disclose known dangerous side effects and that the active ingredient in the drug, Etonogestrel, was inadequately tested before NuvaRing’s release.
2 Stryker Rejuvenate - Defective Implants
Big Pharma's cousin, the medical device industry, is just as guilty. Advancements in technology have allowed us to replace damaged body parts relatively easily; just look at how many companies are offering hip and knee replacement procedures. While these 'new bits' are supposed to give patients a new lease on life, some have only worsened things.
Patients want improved mobility, manufacturers create better implants; everybody wins. But not in the case of Strkyer; their hip implants, the Rejuvenate, ABG II and Accolade series were found to show signs of corroding.
These defective implants break apart in the body, leaking foreign objects into the blood stream. Patients suffer severe pain, fluid formation, dying tissue and bone, brittle bones etc.
As of June 2015, Strkyer had spent up to $1.5 billion to settle lawsuits.
6. AndroGel - Testosterone Gel
Many men fear the drop in testosterone associated with growing older. Some seek medical advice and are told that a better diet and exercise can boost low testosterone levels. Others choose the more convenient method of popping pills or enduring testosterone injections.For the 5% of the male population diagnosed with hypogonadism, drugs like AndroGel, Striant and Axiron have become bathroom cabinet staples. But users have come forward claiming to suffer cardiac arrests, strokes and other heart-related issues, even when they had no history of such illnesses.
Abbot Pharmaceutical, the makers of AndroGel, are under scrutiny for allegedly recruiting doctors to help their product "ride the coattails of Viagra." Doctors were encouraged to offer Androgel to patients who asked for Viagra to treat low testosterone.
There are also over 1, 000 lawsuits against companies like Pfizer and AbbVie, for aggressive marketing for off-label purposes.
5. Olympus - Endoscope
In many cases, a routine endoscopy is carried out to confirm a diagnosis, and it often goes without a hitch. However, one tool in this routine process has recently developed a very bad reputation.
In one case, the Olympus TJF-Q180V duodenoscope used at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center in California, has been implicated in two deaths. It has also been blamed for the spread of the antibiotic resistant superbug, Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) in up to 200 cases. Like many superbugs, infected patients have a high mortality rate. In CRE, 50% of all infected patients die.
Investigations uncovered that the FDA never cleared the scope for use, at all. The model in question contains many grooves, which makes a thorough clean quite difficult. A poor clean raises the risk of bacteria being transferred from patient to patient.
The manufacturer, Olympus, is currently facing charges of selling a product without FDA clearance, negligence and causing wrongful death. With the scope being implicated in deaths from more hospitals across the country, the number of suits are bound to rise in the coming months.
4. Mirena - Birth Control Device
Developed and sold in Europe since 1991, Mirena came Stateside in 2000. It quickly became one of the two hormonal IUDs approved for use in the USA. Manufactured by Bayer Pharmaceuticals, it worked by releasing continuous doses of levonorgesterel to thicken the mucus lining of the uterus. This prevents any sperm that enters from surviving and developing into a fetus.
The warning bells start to go off when even Bayer claims that they are unsure of EXACTLY how Mirena really works. Some of its side effects include the formation of ectopic pregnancies and the spontaneous expulsion of the device from the body.
Mirena was also found to cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility by damaging the uterus, ovaries and Fallopian tubes. This condition can occur within three weeks after insertion of the Mirena.
Bayer has also being accused of misleading marketing and not disclosing important details like the tendency of the device to move around, which led to perforation of the uterine wall in some patients.
1 Zofran - Anit-Nausea and Vomiting Drug
Administered to combat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, Zofran has also found off-label use in situations where nausea and vomiting occur. While it may seem like a God-send for pregnant women, they are strongly advised not to use this drug.
Studies have linked Zofran usage to an increased risk of developing birth defects. The incidence of cleft palates, club feet, and craniosynostosis are all higher in mothers who take Zofran. The main component, Ondansetron, works by affecting serotonin levels in the brain. In pregnant women, it can cross the placenta and affect the still-developing brain of a fetus.
Despite this, the manufacturer, GSK, still marketed the drug to pregnant women, even though it wasn't approved by the FDA to do so. The lawsuits filed also accuse GSK of paying doctors to prescribe the drug.
With over a million women taking the drug every year, GSK earned millions in revenue. In 2012, the company settled the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history after the company agreed to a $3 billion payment.
2. Xarelto - Blood Thinner
Originally marketed as an oral anticoagulant, Xarelto was cleared for use in treating DVT and pulmonary embolisms. This wonder drug, developed to replace warfarin, has the dangerous side effect of causing uncontrollable bleeding.
Users of this drug have suffered unstoppable bleeding from every part of their body; the stomach, rectum, in the brain, even from their eyes. The effects of the drug sound like something from a horror movie script, but it's real. The craziest part of it is that there is no known antidote.
Plaintiffs are filing claims against Johnson & Johnson and Bayer for downplaying the risks associated with using the drug. The lawsuits claim many patients have died from the bleeding caused by Xarelto.
1. Risperdal - Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Drug
Developed to help treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Risperdal was also used to reduce aggressive behavior in autistic children. It works by blocking certain dopamine receptors in the brain. Approved by the FDA in 1994, it's also sold under the name Ivenga.
Risperdal was primarily targeted at parents of teens with schizophrenia but some of its recorded side effects include diabetes, weight gain, increased chance of stroke and gynaecomastia in young men.
According to lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, Risperdal hadn't been approved for use in children, when it was being prescribed. The lawsuits also allege that the company incentivized doctors to get them to prescribe the drug.
Though Johnson & Johnson deny all accusations, they paid out $181 million in 2012 and $5.9 million in 2014. The company also paid out $2.2 billion to settle investigation into their illegal promotion of the drug.
What do you think now? All these are everyday drugs that people take, hoping for a cure, but by concealing the effects, many of them are making patients much worse.