Hundreds of lawsuits alleging that Wyeth Pharmaceuticals’ hormone replacement therapies (HRT) caused breast cancer have been settled in recent months including one in Pennsylvania where a judge upheld a verdict against the drug company, including a $6 million punitive damages award.
Wyeth had heavily promoted its HRT drugs Premarin and Prempro as safe and effective treatments for bothersome symptoms of menopause. The pharmaceutical company even promoted the pills for their added benefit of protecting women against heart disease and dementia. But evidence was beginning to surface that the drugs were actually far more dangerous than the public or doctors ever perceived.
The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a research project on the morbidity and mortality of menopausal and post-menopausal women, abruptly halted its study on HRT in 2002 when data showed a significant risk for breast cancer in women who used HRT.
In Singleton v. Wyeth, the jury had awarded $3.45 million in compensatory damages, which the court raised to $4.4 million for delay, and $6 million in punitive damages, according to The American Association for Justice. Judge Mark Bernstein based the punitive award on Wyeth’s deceptive public relations campaign designed to “dismiss and distract” doctors away from concerns about HRT and breast cancer.
The drug company went so far as to fund continuing medical education programs in an attempt to convince physicians that there was no increased risk for breast cancer, and used training materials to imply that the drugs would, in fact, protect women from developing the disease.