We recently posted an update detailing the 4.3% rise in AbbVie’s first-quarter profits. One year ago, the pharmaceutical giant posted profits of $980 million for the first three months of 2014. That, apparently, wasn’t enough. The first three months of 2015 saw profits of $1.02 billion for the Androgel manufacturer.
Profit is not a bad thing. Profit is how bills are paid, families are fed, and companies are motivated to do bigger and better things. In our society, profit is what makes our economic world go around.
But when profits are achieved through ill-gotten means, as a society it is our responsibility to take those to task who have done wrong. You are entitled to make money. You are even entitled to make unfathomable amounts of money if that is what you are capable of. But, you are not entitled to hurt others in the process.
A jury in St. Louis made that abundantly clear last month when they awarded a $15 million verdict to a 12-year old girl who suffered severe birth defects as a result of her mother’s prenatal use of Depakote; an anti-epileptic medication.
Epilepsy can be a debilitating illness. Seizures can come at any time and the resulting convulsions can cause serious injury to the patient. Epileptics should be able to take advantage of all available measures to prevent the onset of these seizures and have the best chance at leading a normal, seizure-free life.
Depakote was marketed as an option to do just that. Unfortunately, the manufacturer severely downplayed the risks involved in taking the drug.
Though the company named in the suit is Abbott, AbbVie is the corporation ultimately responsible for the drug and the financial implications of the lawsuit. Why? Because AbbVie is the result of Abbott shedding the part of their business that deals with brand-name drugs and creating a new company. As part of the agreement and the formation of that new company, AbbVie inherited all of the liability for Abbott’s drugs made prior to AbbVie’s creation.
What is Abbott Accused of?
As stated in the lawsuit, “Abbott steadfastly refused to communicate the true nature and extent of the risk in its product labeling and warnings to physicians and consumers.”
One of those risks was the possibility of birth defects caused by taking Depakote while pregnant. It took a jury just 3 days to determine that Depakote was responsible for the severe birth defects, including spina bifida, that will plague 12-year old Maddison Schmidt for the rest of her life.
It took until 2013 – years after Depakote was approved – for the FDA to issue a warning about drugs based on valproate sodium, a key Depakote component. While not mentioning severe birth defects like spina bifida, the warning stated that children born to pregnant women taking valproate sodium could suffer from decreased IQ scores and that the drugs should only be considered if no other viable alternatives exist.
Profits Over Public Safety
One billion dollars of profit over 3 months averages out to just over $11.1 million per day. At that pace it will take a little over a day for AbbVie to recoup the money it will pay out for causing a lifetime of suffering for one Minnesota 12-year old. But Maddison wasn’t the only child injured as a result of one company’s refusal to protect her. She was one of 24 plaintiffs named in her lawsuit; 24 children suffering from birth defects who might not be, had AbbVie told the patients and physicians looking for an answer to epilepsy that their drug might not be the right choice for them under their circumstances.
Instead, the manufacturer shows a history of alleged failures to inform the general public and medical community of the true dangers present in the medications they bring to market. With FDA oversight proving to be seemingly less and less effective, one has to wonder who is left to protect us from dangerous and inadequately investigated medications.