From Bloomberg News, April 26, 2012:
“Bayer AG said settlements of U.S. lawsuits claiming that its Yasmin line of birth-control pills caused blood clots in women have increased to $142 million.
Bayer, based in Leverkusen, Germany, has resolved 651 cases alleging its Yasmin and Yaz contraceptives caused sometimes- fatal clots that can lead to heart attacks and strokes, the company said today in its Stockholders’ Newsletter for the first quarter. The company said it paid $142 million in the settlements, for an average of about $218,000 a case.”
$142 million might seem like a lot of money to you and practically everyone you know, but that sort of money doesn’t really mean all that much to Bayer. You should remember that before the number of women getting hurt or worse got too big for the FDA to ignore, Yasmin and Yaz were two of Bayer’s best selling prescription medications. They made around $1.52 billion off of sales of these products. Millions of women switched over from other forms of birth-control pills in order to start taking this new pill, which promised no weight gain, and end to PMS and a cure for acne. With a list of benefits like that, it’s no wonder so many women were taking it.
There were two major problems with the money from sales of Yaz, Yasmin, and Oscella that Bayer was enjoying. The first was that the supposed benefits were greatly exaggerated, and secondly, Yaz and Yasmin were simply more dangerous to use than other birth control pills.
Did women lose weight while taking Yaz? Some did and some didn’t. Did it cure PMS? Not really. It was supposed to help alleviate some of the symptoms of what is called Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder, (PMDD) which is less common than PMS and, in terms of emotional instability, is much worse. But having one does not mean that you have the other, and the alleviation of some symptoms for PMDD won’t do you any good if you don’t happen to have the condition. Did it cure acne? It kept some pimples from forming, but it wasn’t an all-out cure. In other words, if you had problems with acne, there was no guarantee that Yaz or Yasmin would simply get rid of it, or even make skin problems moderately better.
What made Bayer’s line of birth control pills different from all the others was one single ingredient which has been shown as what also made them hazardous to the health of the millions of women who were taking them.
This ingredient is a synthetic variation of progestin called drospirenone. Progestin is one of the two key ingredients in most hormonal birth control pills, with estrogen being the other. Birth control pills essentially work by tricking the body into thinking that it is already in the early stages of pregnancy.
With the vast majority of birth control pills, there is a risk of blood clotting. A side effect of this hormonal shift can sometimes be a buildup of platelets in the deeper veins and arteries of the woman’s body. Data suggests that these buildups are more likely to happen to older women or women who smoke, but there have been plenty of cases of clots occurring in perfectly healthy, non-smoking younger women.
Clots are fine when there is an actual cut or wound, but clots should not be floating around the bloodstream. The fact that many of these clots form in particularly wide veins and arteries is troubling as well, because that means they have more room to grow. When these clots eventually break up, the pieces start to travel through the bloodstream, eventually going into the smaller veins in the lungs, heart and brain. This can lead to blockages, and this has lead to pulmonary embolisms, strokes and heart attacks among women.
This is a risk that any woman takes when she uses birth control pills, although the risk is somewhat more minimal if you are taking other forms of birth control pills. Yaz, Yasmin and Ocella users, however, have tripled their risk of blood clots. That isn’t estimation or an exaggeration. The FDA required Bayer to put labels on these pills saying that very thing, but only after there had been a few years worth of injuries, illnesses, hospitalizations and even deaths.
It’s good news that Bayer seems to be willing to settle on the blood clot cases, although they have not yet begun to settle on the more severe cases such as stroke, heart attack, and death. We do know that for our clients who have been injured because of the use of these dangerous birth control pills, we will fight for what is fair and in the best interests of our client, and not for what is financially convenient for Bayer.