Mr. Smith's Neighborhood

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Getting Screwed by the Pharmaceuticals December 7, 2007

It’s Time for Some Accountability

Like many other diabetics around the country, I had been prescribed a GlaxoSmithKline medication called Avandia back in July of 2001. Later, in June of 2006, I was switched to a product called Avandaryl, a combination of Avandia and Glipizide (a sulfonylurea used to help control blood sugar levels).

If you took the time to do a search on Avandia, you would find that GlaxoSmithKline is under siege from lawsuits by stockholders and customers. I contacted my wife’s attorney (and a fellow alumnus of Iona Prep), Luis Penichet of The Penichet Law Offices in White Plains (NY) for his usual expert advice. Luis is truly one of the great guys walking around on this planet.

Luis referred me to a very trusted colleague and personal injury attorney, Phil De Caro of De Caro & De Caro in nearby Harrison. Mr. De Caro is a caring, sensitive, intelligent and understanding attorney who listened to my personal Avandia saga. He carefully noted the facts and asked great questions. His advice was honest and forthright, and he had my best interest first at all times.

Lots of people are going to cash in on the GlaxoSmithKline bonanza from the BILLIONS they raked in on a drug with unpublished lethal and debilitating effects. Unfortunately, it is likely that I will never see a penny for the pain, suffering, lost wages, illnesses, physical damage and the mental anguish endured by my wife.

Everything that has happened to my health since October 27, 2005, could have been avoided if GlaxoSmithKline simply disclosed that Avandia was contra-indicated for individuals with a history of heart disease. It is only now, as of November 2007, that “black box” warnings appear on Avandia products and the Avandia web site.

It seems that Avandia and the other products like Avandaryl that contain Avandia increase your risk of serious heart problems if you already have a weakened heart. As the survivor of a massive myocardial infarction and a triple by-pass, you would wonder why I took the product. My doctors, who have taken superior care of me, were not given the information about Avandia. They were helpless to protect me. Nor were they told that Avandia was not to be used with insulin products such as Lantus, a time-release insulin product for diabetics.

Even the news of the Avandia risks were downplayed. The information was made public on June 6 and the FDA scheduled a hearing for July 30. When I became seriously ill in September, it was only by accident that I uncovered the news of Avandia and was switched to a similar medication, Actos. When my doctors learned that Actos was causing the same problems as Avandia, they discontinued the Actos.

As you probably have already guessed, I started to recover from a host of medical problems: reduced kidney functions, reduced liver functions, fatty liver disease, anemia, blurred vision, dizziness, chest pains, swollen legs, and fatigue. After June 2006 when I started Avandaryl, I put on 20 pounds despite a well-managed diet; I gained another 15 pounds from September 15 until November 7. However, since ending the Avandia/Actos regimen on November 2, I have lost 18 pounds. The rest will come once the Avandia/Actos is completely flushed from my system and I can get a decent night’s sleep.

It is also important to note that I had similar episodes to this, lasting one or two weeks, on five prior occasions. I was tested for Lyme Disease and mononucleosis, but the tests were negative. Every one of those episodes occurred after October 2005 but, thanks to GlaxoSmithKline’s unending quest for profits, I have lost about five months of a life with an expectancy that is already severely compromised.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are people with far worse problems than mine. I have a few new problems that seemed to emerge during my latest struggles. First, I developed an enlarged heart. The good news is that I think this symptom will go away once the Avandia/Actos is gone and as my kidneys heal. I has also developed shortness of breath which turned out to be COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) that was exacerbated by the enlarged heart. Again, this can be minimized with weight loss and exercise.

If you look specifically at the Avandaryl warnings, you’ll note that individuals with low pumping rates should not be on the product. Well, that’s me again. My pumping rate is so low that I qualified for a defibrillator placement.

The cost to my health insurance company during the last few weeks has been astronomical. Those costs will ultimately be passed along to employers and consumers in the cost of their health care insurance. I have been spending at least $100 per week on doctor co-pays with examinations, tests, treatments and follow-ups. I have had every orifice and cavity explored including everyone’s favorite, the colonoscopy. The colonoscopy itself wasn’t so bad because I was unconscious, but drinking two gallons of TriLyte was truly something that I never want to do again.

A number of legal firms have initiated class action lawsuits against GlaxoSmithKline, but they are only taking cases where somebody had a heart attack after starting Avandia products. As Phil De Caro explained, the impact of the drug is far easy to prove especially if the patient died. The problem with my claim is that I am getting better and expect to return to work. Also, despite the fact that a recent cardiac catherization showed that my triple by-pass (including the grafts) was still perfect after eight years, it would be hard to prove that all my other symptoms (which are medically documented) were caused by Avandia.

The fact that most of the symptoms started to clear up after stopping the Avandia/Actos could be argued as coincidental.

The simple fact, as Phil explained, is that a single person trying to fight the pharmaceuticals is helpless. The attorneys defend these cases vigorously, and the paperwork alone from the discovery process would bankrupt most clients. The only hope is a class action case but, so far, no attorneys have come forward to represent victims like me who already had the bonanza of a heart attack.

It is wishful thinking to believe that the greedy, profit-oriented pharmaceuticals, operating under the façade that they are concerned with helping humanity, would step forward of their own accord to help the victims that they harmed. It is even more improbable that the Food and Drug Administration would create programs that protect consumers, businesses and health insurance providers from being bilked by pharmaceuticals selling medications that have been poorly tested or found to be hazardous. The FDA is little more than than the government’s red stamp to get money for the pharmaceuticals.

The pharmaceuticals also need to have regulations that establish and demand wide notification when a medication has come into question. The fact that I was on vacation most of the time when the Avandia issues came to light is irrelevant. Had my local pharmacy and my “90-day” supplier been notified of the Avandia risks, I could have been off the medication well before this episode that has disabled me for almost three months.

I have two hopes for getting compensated by GlaxoSmithKline (well, actually four hopes if you include “slim” and “none”). One is if this message can reach others like me who were damaged by Avandia AFTER a prior heart attack. The other, which looks promising, is if the stockholder lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline proves the company guilty of its sins of omission and commission (essentially negligence and fraud). A criminal act on record or an admission of guilt would pave the way for all of us who were injured.

I obviously don’t have many answers and my main concern has to be for keeping myself alive and supporting the herd of a wife, an ex-wife and six kids (including a high-schooler and three in college). I have children at the school where I teach that have been emotionally damaged by my absence (one went so far as to think that I got sick after I disciplined the class for its behavior one day. Meanwhile, a bunch of balding, fat guys who wear $1,500 suits are living it up and laughing all the way to the bank, comfortable in the knowledge that they will never lose a thing.


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