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America’s Long History of Unsafe and Deadly Drugs and Devices Sold to Women

Last year, Johnson & Johnson made constant headlines over their talc powder, sold for over 100 years and used by millions of women to keep undergarments and their body fresh and dry. When it was revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew that their product caused cancer and engaged in a decades-long cover up, many women suffering from ovarian cancer decided to sue the company, resulting in several large verdicts.

While the Johnson and Johnson crisis has blown the lid off the lengths manufacturers will go to sell a product (even with evidence indicating danger), they are hardly the first company to engage in such deceptive practices. The American Association of Justice (AAJ) recently released a report entitled “From Accutane to Zonite: A History of Dangerous Drugs and Devices Marketed to Women,” a thorough look into the ways women have been deceived by large corporations, paying big companies with their health and even their lives. The report comes at a time when the House is peddling the Protecting Access to Care Act (also known as H.R. 1215), a bill that would give significant legal protection to companies that are sued by those injured by faulty medical devices, dangerous drugs, negligent medical care, and abuse and neglect in nursing homes.

140 Years of Deceit & Claims of Curing ‘Women’s Problems’
Mood Disorders: AAJ’s report begins with standard treatments of mood disorders in the 1880s. Women who were suffering from ‘hysteria’ (now clinically diagnosed as several conditions ranging from postpartum depression, anxiety, and even fibromyalgia) were given morphine, cocaine and heroin to make them less tense, less anxious, and more tolerable. In the 1950s, women who went to their doctor with symptoms that merited nerve treatment were prescribed Milltown, commonly referred to as ‘Mother’s Little Helper.’ At its peak, Milltown made up 1/3 of all prescriptions in the U.S. and when it was shown to be incredibly addictive, it was replaced with drugs like Valium. The marketing claims used by Valium’s manufacturers included its ability to help marital problems, manage anxiety and menopause, ignoring the fact that it also had a high dependency risk. Fast forward to the 80s and 90s when selective seratonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) became the new wonder drugs of choice to treat women’s ‘nerve’ problems. Drugs such as Prozac and Paxil were instantly popular, making billions of dollars for their manufacturers. Paxil’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, settled the largest ever claim against a drug company just 5 years ago when it was revealed that they deliberately hid the increased risk of suicide among users of the drug.

Feminine Hygiene & Contraception: In the 1920s, Lysol (yes, the same Lysol used to clean and sanitize toilets, countertops, garbage cans and bathtubs) was advertised as a feminine hygiene product. It also was discreetly marketed as a female contraceptive, despite evidence that it wasn’t a successful method of pregnancy prevention.  Even with warnings from the American Medical Association and court cases against Lehn & Fink (the manufacturer of Lysol), the company still attempted to maintain that adverse reactions to their product were due to allergies and not due to using bleach and other harmful chemicals in such sensitive areas of the body.

Menopause Treatments: In the 1930s, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) began to gain steam and by the 1970s medical experts had begun to discover links between HRT and uterine cancers. In the late 1990s, Prempro was the leader of the HRT pack. The drug became increasingly popular until a 2002 landmark study publicly revealed that HRTs with combined hormones ‘significantly increased the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, and blood clots in the lungs.’ In light of the news, sales of HRTs dwindled, but certainly didn’t disappear. According to AAJ’s report, the global market for HRTs is in excess of $15 billion to this day.

Miscarriage Prevention: In the 1940s, the FDA approved DES (diethylstilbestrol) for use as an HRT. Eventually the product began being prescribed to prevent miscarriages and stillbirths. The English physician that discovered DES began noticing male medical staff who handled the drug growing breasts, which he realized indicated a link to hormone-induced cancers. He immediately notified doctors who were prescribing it for menopause and miscarriages, noting that he believed it would actually CAUSE miscarriages. Today, there are an estimated 5 million women who were exposed to DES in utero. Of those 5 million women whose mothers took DES while pregnant, 95% of them have reported their own reproductive diseases and conditions, including cancer and infertility.

The stories of intentional marketing and manufacturing of dangerous drugs throughout the early 20th century are many and in each case, the companies behind the drugs engaged in intentional coverups of the side effects of using their products.

Modern Day Manipulation – IUDS and Birth Control Pills
IUDs: Many women of child bearing age are surprised to hear that Intrauterine Devices, or IUDs, first became a popular form of contraception in the 1970s. Trouble with IUDs started almost immediately, beginning with claims that the Dalkon Shield was getting stuck in women’s uteri and causing serious infections. Litigation revealed that immediately following the purchase of the Dalkon Shield from the inventor, A.H. Robin employees brought forth concerns to high ranking executives that there were significant issues with the design of the product. Suggestions and product improvements were even made by these employees, but internal memos revealed that the company was focused only on profits and that product changes would lead to a delay in releasing the Dalkon Shield to the public. Physicians who had placed the IUDs in patients began notifying the company of serious problems, including infections, infertility, and even deaths. The company still persisted in marketing and manufacturing the product until it was revealed by their own attorney that they had actively engaged in the destruction of documents proving their guilt. Today, IUDs are growing again in popularity, even as claims of uterine perforation and infections have come to light as the result of using Paragard and Mirena, two popular IUDs currently on the market.

Birth Control Pills: In the early 2000s Yasmin and Yaz, birth control pills both manufactured by Bayer, were two of the most popular contraceptive pills taken by young women, in part because of their heavy advertising in women’s magazines and claims of pregnancy prevention, weight loss, acne prevention, and hormone regulation. It was revealed in 2011 that Bayer had conducted studies that proved women taking Yasmin and Yaz were at a 10x higher risk of blood clots and strokes than women using other brands of birth control pills. Bayer intentionally kept this information from the FDA.

The fact that Yasmin and Yaz are still both available on the market is at once shocking and sickening. The shocking part – AAJ’s report reveals that 190,000 deaths have been attributed to the drugs, along with over 13,000 injuries. The sickening part – The FDA approved Yasmin and Yaz to stay on the market after a 15-11 vote. 4 members of the panel that voted for the drugs to stay on the market have direct business interests in Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals.

Women To Potentially Lose Even More Rights
We are all patients and customers in this country and it seems unbelievable that history is able to continually repeat itself when it comes to harming our health. Corporations have shown time and time again that profits and a good outward appearance are more of a priority than our health and safety.  Products and devices specifically marketed to improve the health and livelihood of women are injuring us, rendering us infertile, and even killing us. What recourse do we have? If H.R. 1215 passes, we will be left with very little rights at all.

If you believe you have been injured as the result of a product, drug, or medical device defect, please contact us and allow one of our skilled injury attorneys to review your case, free of charge. While we want to believe the claims of drug and device manufacturers, we have seen that the harsh truth is often buried beneath too good to be true advertisements and market popularity.