Despite popularity among patients and doctors, Depo-Prevo suits pile up
CHICAGO -- A Cook County suit filed in February alleges that Pfizer failed to warn the plaintiff of risks associated with Depo-Provera, and adds to the list of similar suits filed across the nation. The complaint was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County on Feb. 2 by Jamie Fair, through Power, Rogers & Smith, a prominent Chicago personal injury firm. The complaint names Pfizer and the doctors and health facilities involved with Fair's care as defendants. According to the complaint, Fair was prescribed Depo-Provera from April 1998 through February 2005. On Feb. 14, 2005, she was diagnosed with osteopenia – a condition of decreased bone mineral density that can be a precursor to osteoporosis. Ostopenia typically occurs in women with lowered estrogen levels, such as post-menopausal women and female athletes. Depo-Provera hit the market in the late 1990s as an alternative to oral contraceptives and quickly gained popularity among clinicians and patients. However, some studies later showed a correlation between Depo-Provera use and decreased bone density in women. On Nov. 17, 2004, the FDA required that Depo-Provera include a "black box" label warning that prolonged use of the drug posed risks to bone mineral density. Pfizer began including the warnings immediately thereafter. The plaintiff in this case maintains that the company, and those prescribing the drug at various health facilities, had a duty to warn of the potential risks before the FDA-mandated date. The plaintiff's suit is one of many related to Depo-Provera. In 2005, a $700 million class action was filed in Canada against Pfizer, alleging failure to warn doctors and patients of the potential risks associated with prolonged use of the drug. A spate of individual damage claims have since been filed in the U.S., raising the same allegations that Fair poses in this suit. Pfizer recently sought to centralize 151 separate suits in New Jersey, and has removed other related suits to federal courts. Meanwhile, a group of women in New Jersey are seeking certification of a national class of women that have taken Depo-Provera for more than two years (regardless of whether they have been diagnosed with bone density loss). Despite the risks associated with Depo-Provera, the product remains second only to oral contraceptives among those prescribed to younger women. According to a 2006 survey, 86 percent of clinicians still favor Depo-Provera as a contraceptive option for teens and women between ages 18-22. ("Use of DMPA stays steady," Contraceptive Technology Update December 1, 2006.) The drug is typically provided with the caveat that women taking Depo-Provera undergo a bone mineral density test after two years on the contraceptive. Studies on the reversibility of bone density loss caused by the contraceptive have provided conflicting results to date. Nevertheless, both Pfizer and the FDA currently recommend that Depo-Provera not be used for longer than two years. The World Health Organization, on the other hand, suggests that no restriction on usage or duration thereof is necessary for women between 18-45. The plaintiff in this case is represented by Larry R. Rogers, Jr., of Power, Rogers & Smith, P.C. in Chicago. The firm proclaims itself as the top personal injury firm in Chicago, having secured over $260 million for injured plaintiffs in the last two years alone. It covers all varieties of personal injury cases, including products liability, medical malpractice, construction accidents, mass torts, and the like. On its web site, the firm is currently soliciting potential plaintiffs that have experienced side effects from the drugs Vioxx (Merck), Bextra (Pfizer), Celebrex (Pfizer), and Coumadin (Bristol-Myers Squibb). Larry Rogers, Jr., graduated from IIT-Chicago/Kent College of Law in 1994 and has been with Power, Rogers & Smith since then. Some of Rogers' more notable legal achievements include a $10.4 million verdict in 1998 for a man paralyzed in a trucking accident and a $100 million products-liability verdict for a family injured when their Chrysler minivan burst into flames during an accident. Rogers also recently won a $1.2 million negligence verdict against American Airlines, stemming from the airline employees' failure to properly assist a disabled plaintiff when getting off the plane. Rogers currently sits as president of the Cook County Bar Association and Commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review. Interrogatories and depositions are currently underway in Fair's case, which has been set for status before Judge John A. Ward in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The first case management hearing is set for May 2.