The Story of YAZ

As plaintiff lawyers we see a lot of sad things, but nothing compares with the sadness of a young person’s death as the result of corporate greed.

Take for example the story of YAZ, a blockbuster drug for big pharma but a source of heartache for too many young women who were irreversibly injured or killed as a result of ingesting YAZ’s main ingredient drospirenone (DRSP).  A fourth-generation artificial progestin, DRSP can raise potassium to life-threatening levels, causing dehydration that may lead to blood clotting and numerous other related health crises.

YAZ was approved by the FDA in 2001 for birth control use only. But if you happened to catch Bayer’s 30 second TV spot, “Not Gonna Take It,” you’d think that the drug did much more than prevent pregnancies – and that it was safe. In fact the ads specifically touted the drug not only for birth control, but also for treatment of just about whatever was making young women feel less than their best.

Catch this opening line of one TV spot run widely in 2008: “We all know that birth control pills are 99% effective and can give you shorter, lighter periods. But did you know there’s a Pill that could do more?" The commercial went on to infer that YAZ was the no-risk-cure-all for PMS and Acne, among other things.

Since then the FDA has ordered Bayer to correct its bodacious ads and include the high risk for blood clotting. Bayer complied with TV ad campaign. But what young woman didn’t remember the enticing original ad? A quick look at the staggering sales of YAZ and its generic sisters, like Ocella and Yasmin, indicates that most women bought into the allure. In fact, according to an April 2012 Bloomberg article, YAZ is still the fourth most popular oral contraceptive, earning Bayer over $1.5 billion in 2010 alone.

But enticing ads, while selling products, don’t change the facts. To date approximately 12,000 lawsuits have been filed for YAZ-related injury or death and 50 deaths were registered between 2004-2008 alone.

We are heartened by the April 2012 decision granting legitimacy to plaintiff Geri Atkinson’s complaint against Bayer for having suffering multiple incidents of pulmonary embolism since 2009, while taking YAZ, Yazmin, and Ocella.

Also in April 2012 the Food and Drug Administration issued a formal statement warning that YAZ and Yasmin can dramatically increase risk of blood clots compared to other birth control pills. The FDA statement announced that patients may be up to three times more likely to suffer blood clots when taking birth control pills containing drospirenone.

So it appears that Bayer is ready to get real about YAZ. That means compensation for the families of the inured or dead and better warnings about the risks.

Good news? Yes.

But tell that to the families of young women lost to a sudden stroke or pulmonary embolism. No amount of monetary compensation can reverse the fact that these tragedies were, and still are, unnecessary had greed not outweighed safety in Bayer’s business plan for YAZ.

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