It was devastating for Faith Gibson of British Columbia to learn that her daughter Meah Bartram was born with a hole in her heart. But it was even more crushing for Gibson to learn two weeks later that her daughter’s birth defect could have been prevented.
Two weeks after she delivered Meah, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) warned doctors that taking the antidepressant Paxil during pregnancy could increase the risk of cardiovascular defects. Faith used Paxil during her pregnancy and based on information available to her at the time, she believed the drug to be safe for her unborn child.
When she learned that a clear connection had been made between Paxil use during pregnancy and birth defects, she filed a lawsuit against the GSK. Her lawsuit alleges that the company ought to have known the risks to developing fetuses before it issued the warning, and references small-scale studies and studies on similar drugs that were already available in scientific circles.
Paxil is in a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Other brand-name drugs in the class include Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro and Prozac. All SSRIs are classified as Category C pregnancy drugs, meaning that there is no evidence to show how using the drug while pregnant will affect fetuses. When Paxil issued its warning, the drug was reclassified as a Category D pregnancy drug, meaning studies prove that use of the drug during pregnancy can cause birth defects.
A British Columbia Supreme Court judge recently certified a class-action lawsuit. Lawyers say they will send out a notice about the class action lawsuit throughout Canada. So far, about a dozen other women have come forward. A trial isn’t expected for at least two years.