There are thousands of pending lawsuits against big pharma biggie Merck involving its NuvaRing birth control product and whether its marketing downplayed the risk of blood clots to women who use it. Today, Merck announced that it’s agreed to pay out $100 million to settle these claims, but that will require almost all of the eligible plaintiffs to sign off on the deal.
NuvaRing was originally developed in the ’90s by Dutch drug company Organon and eventually hit the U.S. market in 2002. Schering-Plough acquired Organon in 2007, and Merck acquired Schering-Plough in 2009, inheriting the mountain of lawsuits surrounding NuvaRing.
The plaintiffs claim that these companies have not been transparent about the increased risk of blood clots to women from the products estrogen and progestin. Blood clots could result in heart attack, stroke, or even death. This increased risk is present in other birth control products, and other drug companies have paid a lot more than $100 million to settle similar claims.
A recent Vanity Fair piece sent two women undercover to acquire NuvaRing from clinics and neither were advised of any increased risk of a clot. Additionally, the report claimed that internal Schering-Plough e-mails showed that sales reps were instructed to minimize the risks of NuvaRing compared to other birth control when discussing the product with doctors.
As part of the settlement proposal, Merck admits no wrongdoing, which may be a bit of a problem as 95% of the approximately 3,800 eligible plaintiffs would need to agree to the deal.
The judge who reviewed the settlement proposal calls it a “fair resolution of this litigation,” but some point out that Merck is only paying a tiny fraction of what other companies have paid in similar cases.
For example, Bayer says it has paid out $1.6 billion over blood clot-related lawsuits tied to its Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills.
“Merck may be getting out much more cheaply than its competitors because proving the liability case against the NuvaRing device appears to be more difficult,” explains Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond to Bloomberg.