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MDL Consolidates Effexor Lawsuits Alleging Birth Defects

In a recent order handed down by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, qualifying Effexor birth defects claims that were brought in the federal court system will be centralized before a single judge for pretrial proceedings. All of the Effexor lawsuits involve similar claims that Pfizer’s subsidiary failed to warn the medical community and general public about the risks posed to unborn children whose mothers take the antidepressant during pregnancy.  Eligible cases will be transferred to multidistrict litigation in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is being presided over by Judge Cynthia M. Rufe.

The purpose of the consolidated litigation is to facilitate pretrial processes, allowing plaintiffs with common injuries and allegations to share in the discovery process, while conserving judicial resources. Though merged together in one court, each lawsuit is handled individually, and is tried based on its own evidence and testimony.

At least 9 Effexor lawsuits to be transferred to MDL

Launched in 1993, Effexor is in a class of antidepressants called serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors – or SNRIs, which function in a similar manner as the more widely prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Paxil, Lexapro and Zoloft. Both classes of antidepressants have been associated with a host of disturbing and dangerous side effects ranging from suicidal ideation to birth defects in newborns that are exposed to the drugs in-utero.

At present, court dockets show that nine Effexor lawsuits involving SNRI birth defects have been lodged in district courts throughout the nation. However, product liability lawyers have been reviewing a growing number of new SSRI and SNRI side effect cases and predict that these figures will spike dramatically in the coming months. Plaintiffs argue that manufacturer Pfizer knew or should have known that Effexor was unreasonably risky for pregnant mothers based on post-marketing research, yet did nothing to warn consumers. Subsidiary Wyeth is also accused of using aggressive marketing tactics that endorsed Effexor as safe for expecting women, when clinical evidence indicated otherwise.

Both defendants and plaintiffs consented to the Effexor consolidated litigation, and suggested that all cases should be managed by Judge Rufe, who is currently overseeing the Zoloft birth defects MDL that is also pending against Pfizer.  Plaintiffs who’ve filed lawsuits against Pfizer involving Effexor or Zoloft argue that the drug maker is liable for designing and manufacturing a dangerous drug and for failing to adequately warn of potential SSRI side effects to the fetus.

Alleged birth defects linked to Effexor use during pregnancy

Life-threatening birth defects in newborns have long been associated with antidepressant use during pregnancy. Both SSRIs and SNRIs carry untold risks to the developing fetus, which are still being investigated by the medical community. Though the FDA has warned about certain SSRI birth defects like persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), other congenital defects have been blamed on the medications as well.

Reports of Effexor birth defects in newborns include:

  • Heart defects like ASD and VSD
  • Craniosynostosis
  • Heart murmurs
  • Other heart malformations
  • Omphalocele
  • Club foot
  • Spina bifida
  • PPHN
  • Pulmonary stenosis

In addition to the purported birth defects listed above, research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that Effexor could double the risk of spontaneous miscarriage. Pregnant women who suffer from mild to moderate depression are encouraged to explore alternative therapies, and weigh the risk to benefit profile when considering SSRI or SNRI use.