In July of this year, we posted an article about the possible dangers posed to women by the NuvaRing birth control system, which is an intra-uterine device worn by women for a period of three weeks, during which time it slowly releases hormones into the bloodstream. Millions of prescriptions for it are written and filled every year, but there have also over one thousand lawsuits filed by women who claim that the NuvaRing is unsafe because it increases the risk of blood clots and pulmonary embolism (which can cause heart attack, stroke or even death).
We wrote a few months ago, “It is often the case, especially with superficial venous thrombosis, that blood clots are slightly uncomfortable and painful, but that they often do not carry any weightier consequences. The real danger comes when part of the clot (known as an embolism) breaks off and is transported to the heart, lungs or brain. If the embolism becomes stuck in the lungs, pressure builds in the heart in a condition that is called a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms can be temporary, like difficult, painful breathing or heart palpitations, but they can also lead to a rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure and even sudden death.”
Coming alongside these lawsuits was a study in the British Medical Journal, whose conclusion reads, “Women who use transdermal patches or vaginal rings for contraception have a 7.9 and 6.5 times increased risk of confirmed venous thrombosis [a blood clot that forms within a blood vessel] compared with non-users of hormonal contraception of the same age.” The culprit is believed to be a hormone called desogestrel, which has been present in many forms of birth control for years; some consumer advocacy groups have been calling for its removal from birth control devices since 2007.
The NuvaRing lawsuits have been consolidated and the cases are now in the middle of pretrial proceedings. The biggest news to come out of the case so has just occurred: on October 25, United States District Judge Rodney W. Sippel denied a request from Organon (a subsidiary of Merck, the manufacturer of the NuvaRing) to keep certain documents private. The judge writes, “The fact that the documents may call into question Organon’s research and marketing of its NuvaRing product is not an uncommon allegation in this type of litigation. Although these allegations may ultimately be rejected by a jury, the public has a right to know the basis of the claims against Organon.” In other words, even though these documents may turn out to be of no legal value at all, consumers deserve to see some of the company’s internal communications to determine whether they were keeping any of these side effects a secret. Finally, after about four years of filings, the first NuvaRing cases will go to trial in May of 2013.