Lipitor has been sold in the United States since 1996, generating hundreds of billions of dollars of sales for its manufacturer, Pfizer. Recent research has shown that the cholesterol-lowering drug increases the risk of diabetes in women. This risk has spurred a wave of litigation, with plaintiffs arguing that had they known about the dangers of developing diabetes with prolonged use of Lipitor, they would not have taken the medication. Those who’ve pursued a Lipitor lawsuit against Pfizer claim the company put profits ahead of consumer safety.
What Lipitor treats
Lipitor (atorvastatin) is used to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. It may also help prevent medical problems such as chest pain, heart attack or stroke that are caused by fats clogging the blood vessels. But the drug may also cause a number of complications for patients –especially for women — including development of type 2 diabetes, which have been the grounds for dozens of Lipitor lawsuits.
Lipitor belongs to a group of medicines called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, or statins. It works by blocking an enzyme that is needed by the body to make cholesterol, and this reduces the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Available only in tablet form with a doctor’s prescription, Lipitor was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996. It became available as a generic medication in 2011. That year Lipitor was the world’s best-selling drug, earning some $130 billion in sales.
Lipitor and diabetes
Lipitor’s warnings were updated in 2012 to include a risk of developing type 2 diabetes. At the time, the FDA said it was aware of studies in which some patients taking statins may have a small increased risk of higher blood sugar levels and being diagnosed with adult onset diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease in which there is a high level of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Long term, the condition may make it harder to control blood pressure and cholesterol levels, thereby increasing the risk of a heart attack, stroke and other complications. Diabetes can also impact blood circulation and cause skin and nerve damage.
After the new Lipitor warning was announced, Eric J. Topol, a cardiologist, stated in a New York Times Op-Ed piece that one in 200 people taking Lipitor could develop diabetes as a result.
“More than 20 million Americans take statins. That would equate to 100,000 new statin-induced diabetics. Not a good thing for the public health and certainly not good for the individual affected with a new serious chronic illness…The announcement, medication label change and health advisory by the FDA were long overdue, and have brought this important public health issue to light. The information that we have does not support that this is a “small” problem unless one considers more than 100,000 new diabetics insignificant. The problem of statin-induced diabetes cannot be underplayed while the country is being overdosed,” warned Topol.
Studies support claims made in Lipitor diabetes lawsuits
A 2012 University of Massachusetts study estimates women taking Lipitor have a nearly 50% higher risk of developing diabetes than women who did not take the drug. Risk factors for developing diabetes from Lipitor are increased in women who are obese, have high blood sugar or a family history of diabetes.
The study included 153,840 postmenopausal women who were followed for about seven years. None of the women had diabetes at thestart of the study, but 10,242 cases of self-reported diabetes were found by the end of follow-up.
After considering age, obesity, lack of physical activity and other diabetes risk factors, researchers determined statin use was associated with an almost 50% chance of developing the disease.
Lipitor’s manufacturer, Pfizer, Inc.
Pfizer is a global biopharmaceutical company. Its diversified global healthcare products include human and animal pharmaceuticals and vaccines, as well as nutritional products and consumer healthcare products. Fortune magazine ranked Pfizer as the largest pharmaceutical company in the US and the 40th largest company in the country in 2012. It stated that Pfizer made just over $10 billion in profits from nearly $68 billion in revenues that year.
Lipitor lawsuit allegations
Patients who have brought a Lipitor lawsuit against Pfizer because of development of Type 2 diabetes frequently allege that:
- Pfizer failed to adequately research the potential side effects of the medication, or adequately warn users and the medical community about the risk of diabetes, and/or
- Pfizer knew about the diabetes risk but failed to provide adequate warnings about the possible connection between Lipitor and the disease,
- The current label warnings remain insufficient, and
- If they had been provided proper warnings about the Lipitor risks, they could have avoided diabetes by choosing not to take Lipitor or by diligently monitoring their blood glucose levels during treatment.
Those who have filed a Lipitor diabetes lawsuit may seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, among other non-economic losses. A plaintiff’s ability to recover such compensation will depend on a finding that Pfizer is legally responsible for designing a defective drug and failing to warn of adverse health outcomes.
A motion to consolidate Lipitor lawsuits into a multidistrict litigation for pretrial coordination was denied by a federal judicial panel in August 2013. So far there have been no trials by plaintiffs claiming they were injured by the statin drug. Lipitor lawyers across the country are currently reviewing cases for possible litigation.
- WebMD, Statins May Raise Diabetes Risk in Older Women, http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/news/20120109/statins-may-raise-diabetes-risk-in-older-women
- CNN/Money, Fortune 500, Pharmaceuticals, http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2012/industries/21/
- New York Times, Pfizer Inc., http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/pfizer_inc/index.html
- Time, FDA Warns Statin Users of Diabetes Risk, http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/29/fda-warns-statin-users-of-memory-loss-and-diabetes-risks/#ixzz2neg4RKJo
- Huffington Post, Diabetes, Memory Loss Warnings Added To Popular Statin Drugs, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/statin-warnings-memory-loss-diabetes-lipitor-crestor-zocor_n_1307232.html
- New York Times, The Diabetes Dilemma for Statin Users, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/opinion/the-diabetes-dilemma-for-statin-users.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1387210628-JafOub2CdovQfm3uKcsJ5w