The popular birth control NuvaRing could be causing blood clots in thousands of woman who use it—and has even allegedly resulted in deaths.
In a recent report for Vanity Fair, one mother told of her daughter’s death, caused by the NuvaRing.
Karen Langhart’s daughter, Erika Langhart, 24, died of a pulmonary embolism on Thanksgiving Day in 2011, after using NuvaRing for approximately four years. On the program for Erika’s memorial service, her mother wrote “Cause of Passing: Massive, Double Pulmonary Embolism—a direct result of the NuvaRing.”
“I want to warn every mother and every daughter: Do not use the product that killed my child,” Langhart says.
Erika’s doctor told her mother the vaginal birth control was to blame.
Vanity Fair’s writer-at-large, Marie Brenner’s intensive reporting uncovered several other women who had potentially fatal reactions to NuvaRing:
Brenner also speaks to Megan Henry, coincidentally a college classmate of Erika’s and a member of World Class Athletes, the army’s elite team of soldier-athletes. Ten days after she had started using NuvaRing, Megan, like Erika, found herself gasping for breath. “One doctor I went to told me I was under stress, or maybe I had asthma,” she tells Brenner. “He gave me an inhaler.” On a flight to Florida for more training, she almost collapsed. “At Urgent Care, I was given an X-ray—it was clear. I said, ‘Could this be the NuvaRing?’ ‘Absolutely not,’ the doctor said.” Megan’s mother, Barbara, told her, “Megan, you need to come home now, and I will get you an appointment with a pulmonologist.” After a second flight—she later learned that that alone could have killed her—Megan told her history to a Connecticut doctor, who ordered a CT scan. It revealed dozens of blood clots in her lungs. Rushed to the hospital, she was put on blood thinners in the E.R., and she remained hospitalized for a week. “I was told, ‘Your career as an athlete is over,’ ” she said. “If you weren’t in the shape you are, you would be dead,” her doctor informed her. Though Megan tells Brenner that she is almost back to normal and training again, she will have a much higher risk of blood clots for the rest of her life, she said, and if she gets pregnant, she will likely have to go on a painful regimen of injections of Lovenox to prevent clots.
Brenner interviews Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer bringing lawsuits against Merck. Shkolnik tells Brenner that Organon (the Dutch pharmaceutical company that created the device) launched into NuvaRing’s marketing with a scientist’s research study that had examined only 16 women using NuvaRing. That study, No. 34218, on the release of hormones in different birth-control delivery systems, was so outrageous, Shkolnik tells Brenner, that he felt it justified focusing his entire legal career on drug cases. Shkolnik tells Brenner that the summary prepared by Organon for the F.D.A. was attached to thousands of pages of backup, in which were buried the risks associated with blood clots. “This is a standard subterfuge used by Pharma,” he says. “You bury your bad news in one of 500 studies you have done on ease of use or lipid disorder. Then when the F.D.A. comes back to the drug company, the drug company can say, ‘You had it in your documents.’ If it isn’t in the 30-page summary, the F.D.A. is so understaffed it will never be noticed.”
In an attempt to reach out to Merck’s chairman Ken Frazier of their lawyer, Merck responded by saying Frazier was not able to participate. But they included a Merck official statement: “Blood clots have long been known as a risk associated with combined hormonal contraceptives. The FDA-approved patient information and physician package labeling for NuvaRing include this information….We remain confident in the safety and efficacy profile of NuvaRing—which is supported by extensive scientific research—and we will continue to always act in the best interest of patients.”
According to the FDA itself, NuvaRing user’s have a 56 percent increase of blood clots, and Merck is facing roughly 3,500 lawsuits for health risks from NuvaRing. But the contraceptive remains on the market—and in fact, Merck made $623 million off it in 2012.