"Lawsuits serve two purposes," explains Norsigian. "Sometimes you win and justice can be served, but occasionally a decision isn't the right one, as was the case years ago with spermicidal agents. Faulty data and evidence was used and there shouldn't have been a judgment against the company." But, she continues, the evidence against Bayer appears to be substantial.
"The good thing about lawsuits is that they raise public awareness. You can go online and read so much information and maybe think twice about taking a drug. You can ask more questions to many different sources and get the right answers; you can go to your pharmacy and read the medication insert, and the Physician' Desk Reference is now online. As well, both our blog and our website are excellent sources, where we take an evidence-based approach to drugs and issues."
The Yaz and Yasmin lawsuits are largely a reaction to misleading advertisements that made exaggerated claims about the benefits of the oral contraceptive. Pressure from the FDA forced Bayer to agree to spend $20 million on corrective advertising—but that decision has come too late for many women.
"Yaz and Yasmin are far more dangerous than other birth control pills," Norsigian explains. "Women are risking heart attacks and strokes; it can increase blood potassium levels that can cause death—these are very serious problems." Norsigian says the FDA has reported about 50 Yasmin/Yaz-related deaths, including among young women who don't typically have heart attacks. "There are also classic reactions to these pills, such as depression and mood swings and cysts, that tend to cause problems. They are hormonally related to the pill and for some women it gets so bad that it interferes with life, and that is problematic."
Why does the health community still prescribe Yaz and Yasmin?
"I would say that many doctors don't keep track of the latest findings and what happens with post-marketing surveillance," says Norsigian. "Reports from the medical community usually become one of the key ways we find out about low level effects of any drugs, and not all the information from clinical trials, because there are not enough women involved in the trials to collect data. And doctors are not always paying attention, so they aren't even aware that there is a problem with Yasmin and Yaz.
"We have not been involved directly with Bayer, but if I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with them, I would say this: "You put a product on the market that was more dangerous than other oral contraceptives, and you increased the risk of women's problems. It is not at all surprising that so many women are angry and interested in joining the Yasmin/Yaz lawsuit."