Letter 10: Please Ban Yaz
Even after more than 5 years, when I am out and about, I notice young women and
wonder which of them is going to die too young, as you did, Annie.
But a few years ago, we briefly thought you might not have died in vain.
Thanks to Dr. Zuckerman at the National Center for Health Research, we found out
about the December, 2011 FDA public Advisory Committee meeting on Yaz and
similar birth control pills. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the risks of
these drugs and ask these outside experts if they should be taken off the market.
Your dad and I each prepared speeches. We also printed and distributed handouts about you and made a poster with photos depicting your decline from Yaz that lasted from March 2009 to your last supper on November 6, 2009.
Each “public speaker” was given 3 minutes. Not even an extra second for any reason.
The day of the meeting, our family stood together as your dad and I told your tragic story in our 3 minute speeches. Your sister Maryellen cried through most of the proceedings. Your brother Glenn was sick with a 102 degree fever, but he was there with us. Your dad was shaky-voiced with emotion. And I had a black eye from a collision with a falling food cooler.
After 3 minutes our mikes shut off, so I had to scream my last compelling sentence.
Dr. Zuckerman and about 20 others also expressed their views on whether birth control pills made with drosperinone should be removed from the market. Several of the other speakers had daughters who also had died; some of the speakers had blood clots that almost killed them but instead left them forever changed. One young woman whose blood clot was not dissolving with anti-coagulant drugs was living with the prospect that she might die at any moment. Another was told that she would not be able to have children.
Like you, these women were young, healthy, and athletic before taking Yaz. Some of the speakers explained why these drugs were dangerous. Most of the 20+ speakers called for the drug’s removal from the market. Planned Parenthood did not – they rejected the notion of taking any contraceptive off the market, even though there are many other safer ones readily available. Another speaker defended the products, saying they were safer than pregnancy. None of the speakers supporting Yaz mentioned that there were dozens of contraceptives that were safer than Yaz and other drosperinone pills.
The FDA does not conduct or fund its own studies of medical products – they depend on the companies that make the medication to study it. The agency then attempts to overcome that obvious bias by scrutinizing the company’s studies very carefully.
But this time FDA did something it almost never does: it paid Kaiser Permanente researchers and others to do a study of tens of thousands of women taking different types of birth control pills and devices. The study was impressive, and found that Yaz and other drosperinone birth control pills were one and a half times more dangerous than other birth control pills.
You’d think that would be persuasive. I’ll tell you next time about how badly we underestimated the clout of a drug company to defend a lucrative product.