Women & Dangerous Drugs and Medical Devices

As it turns out, dangerous drugs and medical devices throughout history have disproportionately affected women. Due to recent cases (e.g. Riegel v. Medtronic and PLIVA v. Mensing), some of the women affected may not be able to hold these companies accountable. Over the last century, however, the civil justice system has worked relentlessly to protect women from dangerous products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was created in 1906 due in part to dangerous “medicines,” including opium and morphine tonics for women’s nerves. Unfortunately, the original legislation had little action that could be taken. In 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt’s “America’s Chamber of Horrors” exhibit featured “among other products, a weight-loss drug that caused death, lotions and creams that caused mercury poisoning, and a mascara that blinded women,” according to AAJ’s Unequal Harm study.

The civil justice system has removed some from the market, including:

  • Dalkon Shield (pelvic infections, miscarriages, stillbirths, infertility, and death)
  • G.D. Searle Copper-7 IUD (30 different side effects, including ectopic pregnancies and infertility)
  • Tampons with synthetic materials (Toxic Shock Syndrome)
  • Parlodel (strokes, heart attacks, seizures, and death)
  • Accutane (severe birth defects and spontaneous miscarriage)

Unfortunately, some dangerous products geared toward women are still on the market. These include:

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (breast cancer)
  • Vaginal Mesh (pain, bleeding, and infection)
  • DePuy Hips (infection, fractures, dislocations, necrosis, and nerve damage)
  • Nuva Ring (blood clots, seizure)
  • Ortho Evra (heart attacks, blood clots, strokes, and pulmonary embolisms)
  • Yasmin/Yaz (blood clots)

As AAJ says, “History has shown that corporations will take risks if they are financially acceptable even if the results are devastating to their consumers… The threat of product liability lawsuits promotes patient safety by encouraging manufacturers to take greater responsibility in providing clear warnings about known adverse effects of their products.”


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