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Bayer shores up legal funds as more harmed by contraceptives

On Behalf of | Aug 15, 2012 | Product Liability

As many Marylanders know from either personal experience or the countless advertisements for pharmaceuticals on television, many of the drugs we take every day carry a risk of side effects. Some of these are fairly harmless, such as dry mouth or marginal weight gain. We put up with them, either because a health condition requires that we take the drug or its benefits outweigh the side effects.

But there’s a stark difference between these minor annoyances and a serious health risk. Many pharmaceuticals on the market carry the latter, and while the drugs’ packaging and advertisements may mention these risks, they are commonly understated by manufacturers and overlooked by consumers. And the more popular and prescribed a drug is, the more consumers end up with debilitating problems, some of which have led to death.

One of the most recent examples is a line of contraceptives from Bayer AG. The Germany-based pharmaceutical company has paid out more than $402 million in settlements of U.S. lawsuits. Nearly 1,900 product liability cases have alleged that its Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills caused blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. That amounts to an average of $212,000 per case.

Maryland consumers might wonder if Bayer will take the lawsuits as a sign that it needs to improve its drugs to reduce the risk of this deadly side effect, which appears to be caused by the synthetic hormone drospirenone. But instead the company will likely follow the order by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to strengthen its warnings about the risk of blood clots. It’s also set aside $610.5 million for future Yaz lawsuits — double its previous reserves.

But this shoring up of its legal costs doesn’t mean Bayer hasn’t put up a fight. Although it acknowledges some of the health risks of its birth control pills, it’s refused to settle cases alleging that the drugs damaged women’s gallbladders or caused gallstones. It has also rejected claims regarding blood clots in arteries, as opposed to veins, yet the drugs are marketed as being safer than other companies’ products.

As the company’s profits continue to increase, so will lawsuits against it for the dangerous health risks its drugs carry. Women who take Yaz or Yasmin should not only heed the label’s warnings, but understand that there is recourse for those who have already been harmed by the drugs.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, “Bayer’s Yasmin Lawsuit Settlements Rise to $402.6 Million,” Jef Feeley and Naomi Kresge, July 31, 2012

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