Bayer pockets billions from dangerous birth control pill Yaz

Bayer HealthCare is facing numerous lawsuits from women and their family members who say they were seriously injured or killed after taking the drug company’s blockbuster birth control pill, Yaz. Yet, Yaz remains the company’s top-selling pharmaceutical, generating a whopping $1.3 billion in the first three quarters of 2009, according to Medical Marketing & Media.

Yaz, also known by the brand name Yasmin and the generic brand Ocella, is a different type of oral contraceptive that combines ethinyl estradiol with the diuretic drospirenone. Some health professionals say that the addition of drospirenone in birth control raised the potassium level in users’ blood. This increase in potassium can lead to hyperkalemia and cause heart rhythm disturbances that can cause blood clots that can cause sudden cardiac death or pulmonary embolism or strokes. At least 50 women and their family members have filed suit against the Bayer claiming the drug manufacturer knew of the potential risks but did not properly warn women.

Bayer has argued that it sufficiently warned women that Yaz, like all birth control pills, carries a risk of life-threatening side effects.

Last year, Bayer, after getting its hand slapped by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), shelled out $20 million to air advertisements to clarify the drug’s use. The FDA argued the company’s previous ads misled consumers by broadening the drug’s indication. The commercials promoted Yaz as a treatment for PMS, a condition for which it was not indicated, and acne, a condition in which Yaz has a limited indication. The FDA also said that the drug’s risk information was not stated clearly and was clouded with distracting visuals, background music and other “competing modalities.”

Meanwhile, Yaz remains on the market and continues to rake in money for Bayer. Yaz scored $9 billion in the first nine months of 2009, a sizable increase over the $600 million it made in 2008.