In recent years prescription drugs have proliferated at a rate never before seen. In general, this is a positive development. After all, the whole idea behind taking medication is to get well or feel better, and providing doctors with more options helps to meet those goals. As new treatments are developed for diseases and illnesses, Americans have the opportunity to live longer and healthier lives.
On the other hand, many medical care practitioners believe that there is an over-reliance on prescription medications, which can ultimately harm patients. And that’s with regard to the drugs that work as planned. What happens when drugs don’t perform as expected and have dangerous side effects? In this article, we’ll discuss the extent to which Americans now rely on medications and discuss several prominent prescription drugs that went wrong and turned out to be dangerous.
How Frequently Do Americans Take Prescription Drugs?
According to the Mayo Clinic, almost 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription medication. More than 50 percent of the population takes two drugs. Many Americans take even more. The New York Times cites research showing that approximately 33 percent of hospitalization-related adverse events include drug-related harm and that 400,000 adverse drug events per year are preventable.
Adverse events can occur for many different reasons. Sometimes, pharmacists make errors and fill a prescription incorrectly or mislabel a container. Sometimes, doctors or nurses overlook an allergy or give the wrong drug because they couldn’t read hand-written instructions. In other cases, there is an error in dosage or a failure to understand the interaction between multiple drugs. And in some cases, manufacturers of medications simply create a dangerous product. Below we’ll discuss a few examples.
Famous Prescription Drugs That Were Recalled
- Fen-Phen – Americans have long sought a drug that makes weight loss easier, and many hoped that they had found it when Fen-Phen (a combination of fenfluramine and phentermine, produced by American Home Products) hit the market in the 1990s. A related drug, called Redux (dexfenfluramine, produced by Wyeth), came a few years later. Approximately 6 million people in the United States ultimately took these drugs. Unfortunately, numerous patients began suffering from heart valve problems. Fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine were recalled in 1997. Hundreds of lawsuits were filed, and the manufacturers have spent billions resolving the drug liability issues.
- Vioxx – Vioxx was developed by Merck to treat arthritis. The drug received approval in 1999, and by 2004 had been prescribed to more than 20 million people. Unfortunately, the drug resulted in increased heart attacks and strokes. According to an NPR report, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion into a settlement fund to resolve lawsuits filed by approximately 47,000 plaintiffs and to avoid the potential of 265 class-action lawsuits.
- Bextra – Bextra, developed by Pfizer, was another drug intended to treat arthritis. The drug was approved in 2001 and became highly popular. Ultimately, patients taking Bextra were far more likely to have strokes, heart attacks, or blood clots than the control subjects. There was also a correlation with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The drug was recalled in 2005, and Pfizer was assessed with a $1.95 billion fine.
- Baycol – Bayer produced Baycol, a statin anti-cholesterol drug that was approved by the FDA in 1997. In less than five years, approximately ten million prescriptions were written. However, the drug was ultimately connected to a higher incidence of rhabdomyolysis, a degenerative disease, than other statins.
Call with Questions
Patients take prescription medications with the promise of a better tomorrow. But patients also place immense trust in drug manufacturers, doctors, pharmacists, and everyone in the health care system to ensure that drugs are safe and that they are prescribed properly. Unfortunately, as we have seen from the statistics when any part of the system fails, many preventable adverse outcomes occur from taking prescription medicines.
The only way to make sure that everyone prioritizes safety is to hold accountable those who intentionally or negligently cause harm. If you believe that you have been harmed as the result of a failure in the health care system, please call us with your questions. The experienced medical malpractice and products liability attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield will be happy to answer them.