Nearly half of Americans have taken at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This doesn’t count the many over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and dietary supplements people take every day.
While the rise in prescription medication use can sound alarming, drugs are often an important solution for managing pain and combating illnesses.
Unfortunately, not all medications end up helping patients.
The growth of prescription medication use has also led to an increase in unexpected side effects. Those who are affected by dangerous drugs don’t have to suffer alone. Patients are fighting back against careless drug makers by filing lawsuits and holding them accountable.
It is reasonable to assume a drug sold by a pharmaceutical company has been tested for safety and effectiveness. While most drugs are tested, others are not.
But untested drugs aren’t the only way medications can be found dangerous. Here are some of the most common ways.
Pharmaceutical companies will often try to market their medications as safe and effective ways to treat specific diseases. When a company is not entirely forthcoming with any possible side effects or gives inadequate information on how to use the medication correctly, this can be very dangerous to patients.
In court, marketing defects are often referred to as a failure to warn.
One example of a marketing defect being dangerous to patients is a drug like Cymbalta. Patients claimed that they experienced withdrawals when quitting the drug, which is used to treat depression, anxiety, and pain. Drugmaker Eli Lilly settled hundreds of cases from people who said the company didn’t disclose the withdrawal symptoms.
Drug Design Defects
Sometimes the design of a drug is defective. This typically means the drug was poorly designed and led to unreasonable side effects. A defective drug can cause all types of unexpected side effects, including severe injury and death.
In one of the most controversial drug design defects, patients claimed to have developed bladder cancer and heart failure after taking Type 2 diabetes drug Actos. Takeda Pharmaceuticals agreed to a $2.4 billion settlement.
Drug Manufacturing Defects
The defect can also occur at the manufacturing level. Even when the drug is designed to be safe and effective, a mishap at the manufacturer can lead to severe and unexpected side effects.
One example of a drug manufacturing defect occurred in 2016 when an infant was killed after taking a laxative known as Diocto Liquid. The medication became contaminated with a rare bacteria during the manufacturing process.
The prescription drug abuse epidemic affecting the United States is further evidence of just how dangerous drugs can be. Misuse and an excessive prescription of strong drugs can lead to addiction and even overdoses.
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Adolescents and young adults are particularly susceptible to prescription medication addiction.
The reasons for drug abuse vary greatly, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse partly blames the ease of access.
“The number of prescriptions for some of these medications has increased dramatically since the early 1990s,” the institute says on its website. “Moreover, misinformation about the addictive properties of prescription opioids and the perception that prescription drugs are less harmful than illicit drugs are other possible contributors to the problem.”
The most abused prescription drugs can be broken down into three categories: opioids, depressants, and stimulants.
Opioids are drugs used to treat pain by affecting the nervous system. Opioids are highly addictive and require greater doses as people develop tolerances. Constipation, nausea, euphoria, and poor coordination are signs of abuse.
Depressants are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Symptoms of drug abuse for these types of drugs include confusion, memory problems, and drowsiness.
Stimulants are often used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Symptoms of abuse include agitation, high blood pressure, anxiety, and paranoia.
These are the most commonly abused drugs for each class, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
Depending on the type of dangerous drug lawsuit you file, any number of parties can be held responsible.
Manufacturers are often the party held liable in lawsuits related to dangerous drugs. The reason is that the manufacturer has the bulk of responsibility for creating a safe drug for consumers. Contamination or mishaps could result in life-altering consequences for those taking the drugs.
Doctors, nurses, and even pharmacists can also be held responsible in a dangerous drug lawsuit. They could be liable for a failure to warn if they did not inform the patient of potentially dangerous side effects.
A pharmacist may occasionally dispense the wrong medication or fail to inform a patient of dangerous interactions with other drugs. In the past, patients who abused prescription drugs were also able to file claims against pharmacists who dispensed the drugs.
Because the cases often include thousands of plaintiffs, courts will often consolidate them into a class-action lawsuit. This makes it easier to try cases and come to terms on a settlement.
Class-action lawsuits can be long and complicated. It can take years for cases to go to trial — if they even make it at all.
When a defendant realizes that it makes the most financial sense to stop fighting the cases in court, it will often come to a settlement agreement with plaintiffs. The settlement amount depends on many different factors, but payouts can be massive.
One of the largest settlements in drug history came in 2015 when Takeda agreed to settle thousands of cases related to its Actos Type 2 diabetes drug to the tune of $2.4 billion. Before the settlement, Takeda was hit with a $9 billion verdict by a jury after a plaintiff claimed to have developed bladder cancer after taking the drug. Takeda was accused of hiding the risks.
In 2007, Merck agreed to pay more than $4 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits over claims its pain medication Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes. Merck withdrew the medication three years earlier.
Dozens of class-action lawsuits are currently pending in courts or being pursued by lawyers around the country.
Here is a partial list of dangerous drugs that have been or are involved in lawsuits:
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