April 26, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Over 700 lawsuits against Merck Pharmaceuticals are moving forward in U.S. court, even as the company is fending off accusations of ethical violations for its attempts to market the NuvaRing birth control device overseas, without making mention of its risks.
The lawsuits allege serious injury and death caused by the use of the NuvaRing – a small ring which is inserted into the vagina for three weeks, then removed for a week and reinserted. It sends a constant flow of hormones into the body in order to suppress fertility.
The device was approved by the FDA in 2001 and acquired by Merck in 2009 when it merged with pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough Corp. Merck reported $559 million in NuvaRing sales last year.
According to the website aboutlawsuits.com, 730 lawsuits had been filed against Merck by the end of 2010 claiming side effects ranging from strokes and heart attacks to sudden death.
The website reported that lawyers involved in the litigation submitted a proposal earlier this month to select a few of these cases as “bellwether trials” in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
The selected cases will likely determine the outcome of subsequent trials and possibly result in a settlement with the company for all litigants. Fact discovery for the selected cases is to be completed by June 2011.
Despite the controversy, Merck continues to sell the device, and contraception advocates continue to promote it. Planned Parenthood touts NuvaRing as a “safe, effective, and convenient” form of birth control on its website.
The company is also under investigation by the State Agency of Medicenes in Estonia for sponsoring what it claimed was an educational seminar for doctors, but which one investigative reporter charges was little more than a NuvaRing promotional event.
A reporter with Estonia’s business daily Äripäev attended the event and shot an undercover video which shows attendees being served free drinks and entertained with pop songs and dancers waving what look like enlarged NuvaRings.
According to a Baltic Business News Report, Konstantin Ridnyi, a gynecologist of East Tallinn Central Hospital, gave a presentation at the event focused on promoting NuvaRing and made no mention of its potential negative side effects. When the Äripäev reporter attempted to interview Ridnyi afterwards, he refused to comment.
Aivar Hundimägi, the editor of Äripäev’s investigative reporting desk, told ERR News that after a few informative lectures, the event “degenerated into an onslaught of advertising.”
Known overseas as Merck Sharp & Dohme, the company has become one of the largest producers of medicine in Estonia after entering the Estonian market ten years ago, according to ERR.