By: Brooks A. Mick
The airways are full of the ambulance-chasing lawyers these days, but now they are not just chasing ambulances carrying accident victims. They are working industriously to drive life-saving medications off the market.
Yes, surely there are occasional drugs that come to market that cause side effects that drug companies covered up. I submit, however, that it’s a very rare situation.
Sometimes what happens is that a previously unknown side effect shows up—but drugs have gone through many years of testing and have often been in use in Europe and other parts of the world for many years without these side effects coming to light. This is hardly a criminal act on the part of the drug companies. And in such situations, the side effects are so extremely rare that it simply took decades for the statistics to become significant mathematically.
But the situations that really anger me are those in which there are no statistically significant side effects and yet the drugs are labeled “bad” and lawyers seek out patients who have suffered illnesses not definitely linked to the drugs or procedures. Most people know that John Edwards got rich suing OB doctors for birth defects that were not statistically linked to any improper delivery procedures. It’s clear that the birth defects he claimed were due to malpractice are caused by genetic or other problems completely unrelated to delivery. But lawyers are now launching more current attacks on drug companies.
Take rosiglitazone, known as Avandia. It’s been driven off the market for all practical purposes. A meta-analysis (a type of study wherein several different drug trials are lumped together and fudge factors applied to try to make them all equivalent for interpretation purposes) indicated that there might be more heart attacks in patients treated with this drug. Its use was limited, and doctors now have to attend special classes warning of the dangers and discussing risk-benefit ratios and receive special certification before they can prescribe Avandia. Meanwhile, the RECORD and the BARI-2D studies have been undertaken with thousands of patients and the conclusion of both is that the risk of heart attacks is about 28% LESS in patients taking Avandia. The previous study was flawed. And yet a beneficial drug is now essentially unavailable.
In place of Avandia, pioglitazone (or Actos) is prescribed, but now the lawyers are claiming that it has been linked to bladder cancer. There was a study, which found 6 more cases of bladder cancer in a large group of patients treated with Actos, but then diabetes itself increases the risk of bladder cancer. The same study found 11 FEWER cases of breast cancer in patients treated with Actos, but I don’t hear anybody claiming Actos prevents breast cancer. The truth is that in large studies there are always going to be a few statistical anomalies. If you took a bushel basket of red and blue marbles, half and half, to the center of a gymnasium floor and dumped them out, you might well find that 6 more blue marbles ended up on one side of the center line than the other—but do you think one side of the gymnasium caused the blue marbles to cross the line? No, it was just random chance. Same with the study of Actos and bladder cancer—and breast cancer. Meanwhile, the Actos is probably controlling diabetes and helping prevent kidney failure and arteriosclerosis and heart attacks and strokes, and yet lawyers may succeed in limiting its use.
Now that I have revealed that there were fewer cases of breast cancer with Actos, some insane lawyer may get the idea to sue doctors who didn’t use Actos in a patient who developed breast cancer. I wouldn’t put it past them.
Most recently, Pradaxa is being attacked. Lawyers are looking for people who suffered brain or other hemorrhages while taking this blood thinner. The research, however, shows that there are about 30% FEWER brain hemorrhages in people taking Pradaxa when compared to the alternative blood thinning agent, warfarin. Thus lawyers are attacking THE BETTER, SAFER DRUG! If they succeed in limiting its use, they will drive patients back to the drug, which actually has a higher risk of brain hemorrhage. Does that make any sense in the real world? Is there any requirement that act sanely?
There should be a law firm that specializes in filing lawsuits against lawyers who file suits against drugs based on nebulous statistics. Call 1-800-BAD-LWYR.
If Scott Walker can limit government union power, perhaps we can get tort reform and rein in these bad lawyers out to make a buck off sympathetic juries who flunked statistics—or never got that far in school.