Contraceptive Causes Controversy

An Adelaide law firm is investigating the use of oral contraceptive pill ‘Yaz’ or ‘Yasmin’ after hundreds of Australian women have come forward saying they have experienced severe side effects after using the drug.

Tindall Gask Bentley is investigating the claims that Yaz is unsafe. To date, 380 Australian women have approached the law firm with health issues relating to the pill.

The pill has been linked to health problems associated with blood clotting, including Deep Vein Thrombosis, Pulmonary Embolism, stroke, heart attack and gall bladder issues.

Tim White, a partner of the firm, said that the women have experienced a range of health issues related to blood clotting.

“Many women have suffered Deep Vein Thrombosis, Pulmonary Embolism, gall bladder issues and also strokes or heart attacks. I’ve spoken to a previously healthy woman who sustained clots that were so debilitating, she was wheelchair-bound for months, and another in her early twenties who now has permanent heart damage,” said Tim.

There have been reports of women in their early twenties going blind or experiencing a heart attack, as well as claims that Yasmin/Yaz is linked to 23 deaths in Canada.

In the USA, Bayer — a global pharmaceutical company that produces and distributes the drug — has already settled 3,500 cases of people experiencing blood clots whilst on Yaz/Yasmin. It is estimated they have already paid out $720 million.

The oral contraceptive pill Yaz or Yasmin carries a medical risk that is believed to be higher than other combined oral contraceptive pills, the exact amount is widely debated. Some medical studies say it increases the risk threefold, while some — such as the testing done by Bayer — report no increased danger.

Bayer released a statement to the media defending their product, in response to the recent media interest in Australia.

“All combined oral contraceptives carry risks, including an increased risk of thromboembolism.  This risk has been recognised for many years and is outlined in both the Product Information (PI) supplied to doctors, and the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) supplied with the product to women prescribed the pill.”

Yaz/Yasmin became available in the early 2000s and was prescribed to address the symptoms of PMS, i.e. mood swings, as well as acne. The drug is often prescribed by doctors to patients who experience these health issues or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and do not have any family history of clotting.

A Randwick chemist said that women who are prescribed the pill are often issued with an additional print out outlining the associated risks by either the doctor, chemist or both, and are instructed to read the product information supplied by Bayer.

“Most doctors should check with the patient that there is no history of clotting. We are always sure to ask if the patient has taken the drug before when we dispense it. There are so many other contraceptives, most that are cheaper, that the only people really being prescribed this drug are those who suffer from mood swings or even PCOS,” she said.

The chemist said that even though the risk of side effects may be three times that of someone not on Yaz, it is still a very small number.

“A tiny section of the population are at risk of experiencing side effects, so even if you multiply that number by three, the number of people at risk is still very small.”

A spokesperson for Bayer said that there are many other things that could increase your risk of blood clotting just as much as Yasmin, if not more.

“The increased risk of venous thromboembolism is very small and lower than the risk of thromboembolism in pregnancy. The use of combined oral contraceptives is not the only risk factor for venous thromboembolism; factors such as older age, smoking, inherited coagulation abnormalities, obesity, pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period, malignancy and prolonged immobilisation have all been shown to increase the risk of venous thromboembolism,” said Bayer.

Andrew Montesi, a spokesperson for Tindall Gask Bentley, says that some of the women who have come to the law firm with an experience of side effects had probably gone through the appropriate processes with their doctors.

“I can certainly confirm that many women we have spoken to have told us they have no family history of clotting and have been cleared by their doctors of any pre-existing conditions,” said Mr Montesi.

Jen Preddy, a UNSW medical student who has been taking Yasmin for over five years, has never had a problem with the medication.

“I think people forget that it is a drug and all drugs have contraindications and potential side effects. The hormone itself has clotting properties and is not recommended to anyone with a history of thrombosis or clotting disorders,” she said.

Mr Montesi stressed that the law firm is still in the investigative stage and no action has been taken against Bayer yet.

“We have not yet committed to the class action, it is still in the investigation stage.We are up to 380 women who have registered their interest. Note that the amount of registrations doesn’t necessarily equate to a margin for error ratio as there will always be affected people who do not come forward for class actions, for whatever reason. It is very early days and the numbers of who will be involved in any potential legal action is far from finalised,” he said.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists issued a statement  on the current status of combined oral contraceptive pills, saying that the risks for most women should be quite small.

“The highest risk estimates for venous thromboembolism (VTE) with the use of third and fourth generation combined oral contraceptive pills are of a relative risk of two.  Overall, the absolute risk is small, estimated at between four and six cases of VTE per 10,000 users per year.”

 

The one thing that Bayer and all its opposition agree on is this: If you have concerns over your use of your combined oral contraceptive, seek advice and assessment from a medical professional.

Freya King

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