Pharma industry gives less than a crap about women’s health. Quelle surprise.

// 13 October 2008

The American Bloomberg News reports that Johnson and Johnson has spent at least $68.7 million on settling hundreds of lawsuits filed by women who suffered serious illness after using the contraceptive patch Ortho Evra, so avoiding being legally condemned for their negligence:

Of 562 complaints reviewed by Bloomberg News, the vast majority of users alleged the patch caused deep-vein thrombosis, or blood clots in the legs, and pulmonary embolisms, or blood clots in the lungs. Some blamed it for heart attacks or strokes. The complaints blamed Ortho Evra for the deaths of 20 women.

While the US government’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to back the patch following changes to the warning label, patient-advocacy groups have been demanding it be taken off the market:

Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, a Washington-based advocacy organization, petitioned the FDA in May to ban the patch within six months, even after the three label changes.

“It still has dangerously high levels of estrogen,” said Sidney Wolfe, director of the group. “There are no unique benefits. If there is a drug with no unique benefits, and it has unique risks, and there are alternatives, why should anyone use it? What is the purpose of the FDA if not to regulate products like that?”

Quite. How long is it they’ve been working on the male pill now? Trying to rinse out every tiny little side effect while we lurch from one contraceptive pill / patch / injection to another dealing with severe mood swings, head aches, weight gain, blood clots and even death on the way? I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff out there – and J&J’s patch is a case in point – that really needs to go back to the lab.

I think my worst contraception experience was with the pill Ovranette. I was prone to bouts of mild depression at the time anyway, but I really do feel like it pushed me over the edge: I was crying uncontrollably every day and couldn’t bear to see anyone. A friend of mine was also having problems about the same time, and it turned out she was on the same pill, while various other friends of friends also had horrible experiences. All of these horrible experiences ended when we changed pills.

Then there’s the I can’t remember exactly how many months long period a friend had when she came off the injection, another was taken off it because the powers that be decided it caused osteoporosis, the list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the pill is fantastic, and I wouldn’t be without it unless I wanted to have children (ha!) – but it’s only fantastic once you’ve found the one that works for you. And that can be a real nightmare.

H/t feministing

Comments From You

saranga // Posted 13 October 2008 at 11:49 pm

Don’t forget there are other non hormone based contraceptive methods out there which also work, for example the coil, which has proved a million times better for me than any pill I’ve tried.

chem_fem // Posted 14 October 2008 at 9:13 am

I had a funny pill moment after being happily on the same brand of pill for years. It just started to make me really emotional so after a couple of months I changed to another brand and I was fine ever since.

I have since gotten a Mirena fitted and i LOVE every minute of it. I think that it is shocking first that we are never offered all of the range of treatments available to us by the doctors (for ever change in contraceptive I’ve had, I have researched it myself and asked for it specifically) and that we have such little choice. A friend of mine from France says that they have a much bigger choice of contraception including different doses of the same pill and the Nuva ring (which I’ve never heard of being used in the UK).

As for the male pill I read somewhere a while back that it was a perceived lack of market that was holding it back, rather than them ironing out all of the side effects (no clinical trial can really predict all of the effects a drug will have once available to an entire population). I’ve not seen anything about it since though.

maggie // Posted 14 October 2008 at 9:33 am

I’m surprised that the birth control pill is still being used. There are many other effective contraceptive measures out there. Surely for optimal health a woman should inisist on the condom. As a woman you don’t lose out on any sensation (though my partner didn’t think this was an issue), won’t get moody or ratty, put on weight, have fertility issues or prolonged bleeding.

I used ovranette, decades ago, and am surprised it’s still out there. I found I too bled heavily after coming of it (the only time this happened to me).

Come on women. Let the blokes take the contraceptive burden.

Laura // Posted 14 October 2008 at 11:01 am

Hi maggie,

I would never just use condoms without being on the pill – the last time I did we had a split and I had to fork out £25 for emergency contraception (which he paid half of, and quite right too). I don’t want there to be any chance that I could get pregnant – even if I wasn’t having sex with anyone I’d stay on it in case I was raped. I know that sounds awful, but particularly when I was living in Chile where abortion is illegal, it just makes sense to me. I also find condoms uncomfortable, and I know other women who are allergic to them.

Sabre // Posted 14 October 2008 at 11:12 am

The lack of information provided by docotrs is astonishing. When I first asked to go one the pill I was prescribed Microgynon, which a friend later told me was the bog-standard combined pill. The high dosage of oestrogen gave me blinding headaches, so I went back to and was told that the headaches were caused by oestrogen and if it bothered me I would have to come off the pill completely. I wasn’t offered a different dosage pill until a few years later when I mentioned it in passing to another doctor. The lower dosage triphasic pill Logynon (3 different colours!) works much better but I still get side effects.

Recently I asked if I could have the coil fitted and was flatly informed that the pill was better for me. I have asked twice now, but I guess I didn’t sound convinced enough. One time I was told it was more suitable for women who had had children already, which I doubt.

As for condoms, they are the least intrusive but it was after one split that I realised I really should have a back-up against unwanted pregnancy. The pill is pretty good on the whole but I’d really like a non-hormone or lower-hormone based method.

I’m all for male contraceptive, but having a discussion with my boyfriend made me realise that most men would be a bit afraid, at first anyway. The idea of altering his body’s ‘natural’ state was a completely alien concept to him. It had never really occurred to him until then how much my body is affected and changed by the pill. Sign of privilege I guess? Most men don’t really have to worry about such things. They own their bodies and nobody asks them to tamper with their hormones or internal organs for the sake of a silly thing like contraception. When I hear a man moan about condoms and how annoying they are I want to scream – but it’s usually that time o’ the month anyway! :-)

Cara // Posted 14 October 2008 at 11:12 am

What you say about contraceptive pill side effects – YES.

Realised my pill gave me migraines, after spending a day or 2 every month with unbearable headache, visual disturbance and throwing up my digestive system…nice.

Have stopped taking it now, am going to try another brand…when I can find time to wait in FP clinic for 2 hours…yes, really.

I have to point out, I am not in a relationship right now, but take the pill as without I have no idea when I can expect my period…which is frickin annoying…also with the pill have shorter and lighter periods.

Also as Laura said, it’s not possible for anyone to know 100% they won’t have sex, even if *touches wood* they are raped.

Yes I had heard they could pretty much bring out a male pill now. The problem is clearly that men won’t take it.

Sabre // Posted 14 October 2008 at 11:23 am

@ maggie

Personally I prefer not to use condoms as I have noticed it feels better for me without them.

Mary // Posted 14 October 2008 at 2:18 pm

The thing about the coil being more suitable for women who have already had children is actually true (although as always it is at the indivudual doctors disgression and obviously it isn’t a blanket rule). I have a friend who has never had children and had one fitted, and she was in excruciating pain for about a month until the doctor agreed to remove it. I think it has something to do with birth canal and it being wider once you’ve given birth…

Sarah // Posted 14 October 2008 at 2:35 pm

The thing is, not everyone uses the Pill just for birth control. I take it primarily because I had very painful/heavy periods and quite bad pre-mentrual problems (headaches, digestive problems, depressive symptoms). The pill greatly alleviates the problems when I do have a period, and allows me to skip many of them altogether. It has absolutely transformed my quality of life. There are associated health risks of course (though remember there would also be risks and side-effects if I was taking painkillers and anti-depressants regularly) but I am aware of these and have made the decision that for me, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Of course not everyone is the same as me, and if I didn’t have the menstrual problems, or if I suffered with side-effects from the pill, or if I was at high risk for blood clots or breast cancer – I might well have made a different decision. But as it is, it’s really nice not to spend a significant proportion of my life doubled up in pain, or crying in my room and trying to resist the urge to cut myself, when there’s a relatively low-risk way to prevent it.

I fully understand anyone not wanting to take the pill – often there are good reasons not to. But it can also be a very good thing – it’s a bit more complicated than every woman who uses hormonal birth control being duped by ‘Big Pharma’ or too oppressed and timid to ask her partner to take on the ‘contraceptive burden. It’s very useful that it acts as an effective contraceptive, but I’d still take it even if I didn’t have a male partner. We all try to make the decisions that work for us as individuals, please don’t judge and patronise.

Maia // Posted 14 October 2008 at 2:36 pm

There is another coil more suitable for women who haven’t had children, called Mirena, but I think it’s progestogen-only and is often used as a treatment for heavy periods. It’s supposed to have fewer side-effects, although you can get some bloating and spotting initially. Anyone interested could ask their GP/gynae. It isn’t suitable for everyone.

And with all coils, a great deal depends on the skill and experience of the individual fitting them! It’s best to have it done by a gynaecologist.

Saranga // Posted 14 October 2008 at 5:19 pm

@ Sabre, Maia and Mary:

Sabre, I would hazard a guess your dr is talking bollocks. I have the coil fitted, I have not had kids and it suits me wonderfully. Some women get a heavier and longer period with a coil, and more cramps. I did experience this for the first 6 or 7 months, and it was (very) painful having it fitted and for the next few days after, but now my periods are lighter and less painful than when I was on the pill.

If you contract an STD with the coil fitted you have a higher risk of it turning into a painful and dangerous pelvic infection, which I think is why doctors prefer to fit coils in women who are in a monogamous long term relationship. They also insisted on me and the boyfriend having an STD check before it was fitted.

Did you know there are two types of coil, one releasing hormones and one not? I have the non hormone kind – the reason I wanted it fitted is because I hate putting all these extra hormones into my body with the pill. I’m not convinced it’s good for me.

Have you tried a family planning clinic?

Saranga // Posted 14 October 2008 at 5:21 pm

Ultimately, women’s choice of contraceptive is a very personal one and no two women experience the same things with the same type of birth control. We need more information out there.

Did anyone see Company magazine’s article on this last month?

aimee // Posted 14 October 2008 at 5:27 pm

… I got pregnant twice on the pill. It’s unreliable. I tried depo provera (the injection) after that and found that I felt really depressed with it. Now I have a coil and it’s such a relief not having to worry all the time. A male pill would be good if you’re in a relationship, but I would feel uncomfortable that someone else had that much control over my body.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 14 October 2008 at 5:33 pm

I’ve been on Lutera for about two weeks now. I get headaches every morning. I think I’m going to stick with it until after the election, and then- well, I may have to think about a ligation

Davina // Posted 14 October 2008 at 8:04 pm

This has sparked off a very interesting conversation with my boyfriend of three years…we’ve always used condoms and I’ve never had a pregnancy scare or allergy problems. We use condoms because I hate the thought of chemically altering my body, and my sister and best friend both had bad experiences with the Pill which put me off (even though I have plenty of friends who get on fine with it). Also I am quite an emotional person anyway so it would probably exacerbate that.

My main prob with condoms is that I kinda miss the feeling of having sex without one (i.e. purely skin on/in skin), especially with my boyf.

So just now I asked him how he’d feel if I got a coil fitted and he said he wouldn’t feel right not using condoms! He doesn’t like the thought of there not being a physical barrier. But I don’t wanna use the female condom (has anyone ever actually used the female condom? ever!?)…it’s not something I’m interested in. We’re both pretty damn paranoid about babies too.

I agree that we definitely need more information and perhaps more accessible and reliable sources of information rather than Googling around. Also I feel horribly embarrassed when I go to a clinic…I should probably get over myself.

Anna // Posted 14 October 2008 at 8:59 pm

I don’t think it’s so much about information as access, personally – we know all this stuff is out there but as many other posters in the thread have said you flatly get refused the service. I had the implant in as they refused to give me the injection any more – implant failed, got pregnant, miscarried, bled for about 4 months straight and had mood swings so severe I literally attempted suicide every other week. This on top of bipolar.

I begged them to get it taken out – was told that I couldn’t have it taken out, that would be bad, I could get PREGNANT then – took me another month to get it removed after turning up at the sexual health clinic threatening to go and buy some lidocaine off the internet and do it myself. Finally it came out, they refused to give me the combined pill and instead put me on the PoP which, as with the rest of the progesterone only contraception I’d been on, gave me mood swings [though not as bad] and.. the never-ending period. They won’t give me the Pill, they won’t give me the patch, coil, injection, ring..

It’s ended up with me coming off contraception – neither me or my partner like or find condoms feasible to use – so it’s back to the good old fashioned withdrawal method for us. Thanks, NHS.

Chloe // Posted 14 October 2008 at 11:12 pm

@ Sarah: I totally agree. I’m also on the pill because I have the most horrendous periods ever. I used to dread having my period, throughout which I’d not only have to deal with PMS but period pain which was so bad that on several occasions I couldn’t walk, and on many other occasions I’ve been physically sick because the pain is so bad. I also experience depressive symptoms due to PMS and period pain combined with a general inclination towards depression.

I hate pharmaceutical companies (mostly on animal rights grounds) and I certainly think that women should be offered many more alternatives than we currently are, but anyone who thinks that the birth control pill is no longer needed is sadly mistaken.

Mich // Posted 15 October 2008 at 2:09 am

I see that several others here have noted depression as a side effect of being on the pill; it drove me into severe depression which has never since come back since I realised the connection and stopped taking the pill. I tried several different versions but all had the same negative effect. The docs kept trying to force it on me for one reason or another (cysts, mother’s history, etc.) but it was an absolute disaster and the depression link was never acknowledged by any of the docs I saw.

Fran // Posted 15 October 2008 at 8:52 am

I think information and access are both key. Microgynon made me depressed, but I was never told I had other options until I heard that a friend of a friend had had the same problem and been given a pill with a lower dosage of oestrogen. I’m now taking a different brand and feel fine — but if I’d known I could do something about it from the start it would have saved me a lot of suffering.

lucy // Posted 15 October 2008 at 11:17 am

To me it seems like most of the negative comments here refer to poor primary care, rather than contraceptives. The fact is that it takes time and trial and error to find something that works for you, and also that many people will probably never find the perfect contraceptive. This is not because pharma co don’t want to give it to you (imagine how lucrative such a product would be), it’s because human biology evolved to make us fertile in a zillion complex ways that, not for lack of trying, we just don’t fully understand yet.

As much as everyone likes to blame big pharma, it simply isn’t possible for a private company to provide us all with the perfect contraceptive. Whether such a pharmaceutical is even theoretically possible i doubt, and the kind of clinical trials required to find out for sure are SO FAR beyond the budgets of big pharma it’s ridiculous.

This story should be about whether or not the FDA required all the relevant trials and whether or not company in question disclosed all the information available… not whether or not a private company intends to fuck women over.

A pharma company will do the minimum required because clinical trials are the most expensive part of drug discovery and, after all, they are a private company who answer first to their shareholders. The higher the requirements for trials, the more the company have to spend, the less profit a drug produces and the less likely a company is to innovate…

Is there a better way for medicines to be developed? Maybe, but it simply doesn’t exist yet.

Having said that, even with all the tests the licensing bodies require there are *always* going to be off-target effects, particularly with medication that is taken as frequently, and over as long a time, as contraception. However, so long as the prevalence of these effects is well documented, and this information is made available to the patient, i really don’t think you can blame a company for your moodswinngs,

Not all NHS GPs will be up to speed on all the data about all the approved contraceptives, but I think people need to learn to participate responsibly in their own healthcare. If you learn to assess the information available online in terms of the evidence it presents, rather than rumors it upholds, and take this information to your doctor s/he is bound to take your opinion a lot more seriously.

Re: “how long is it they’ve been working on the male pill now? Trying to rinse out every tiny little side effect ”

As far as i know there have been no large scale trials of any kind of male contraceptive, so this statement goes beyond stretching the truth. Why are there pills for us and not them? Because women produce about one egg a month, whereas men produce sperm constantly. I think it’s clear which is going to be the easiest to halt, whether you’ve studied physiology or not.

Sarah // Posted 15 October 2008 at 12:50 pm

Anna, were you given any reason for being refused some methods of birth control? It might be that there are genuine medical reasons why certain methods would be unsuitable for you – for example some women should not take the combined pill or anything estrogen based (includes if you have high blood pressure, or overweight or a smoker, or have a family history of certain health problems, also if you’re taking any other medication that could be an issue as some drugs interfere with the action of hormonal contraceptives). I didn’t think the ring was available on the NHS (or in the UK at all yet), will have to check that. But it sounds like you were treated very dismissively anyway, and things weren’t explained properly. I’ve come across doctors and nurses like that myself, though of course most of them are much better.

I wonder if something like the diaphragm/cap would be good for you, or anyone who has issues with hormonal methods but doesn’t like condoms. It seems a bit of an old-fashioned thing – you don’t hear much about it these days! – and I guess not everyone would like the process of inserting it. But as far as I know it’s fairly effective if used properly – got to be better than just relying on ‘withdrawal’.

lisa // Posted 16 October 2008 at 1:48 pm

Very radical thought here: most women can learn to know when they are fertile and when they’re not and it’s not 365 days a year (therefore it’s not necessary to use contraception 365 days a year). Even more radical thought: non-reproductive sex can be even more pleasurable than the reproductive sprem-meets-egg kind ! (So many naughty but nice things to do. What bliss.) What better reason to experiment than “Fertile

Time of the Month Week”.

Cara // Posted 16 October 2008 at 4:49 pm

lisa – er, no, you can’t tell when you are fertile. I think that is quite dangerous advice to give out. I wouldn’t have a clue, not because I’m not in tune with my body but because, er, I don’t have any signs. Plus eggs and sperm can, um, hang around for longer than you would think inside the woman’s body. Conception can happen at almost any point in the cycle.

Also, relying on “knowing your body” isn’t much help if, say, two people get slightly drunk and lack the willpower to stop, thinking it won’t happen that time.

Thinking in these ways is why many more women had unplanned pregnancies before contraception was widely available, and why some young women who lack adequate sex education do today.

Having said that, I agree re: non-penetrative sex, good point.

Sarah // Posted 16 October 2008 at 5:42 pm

I think fertility awareness (based on signs such as temperature, cervical mucus etc) can actually be a reasonably reliable guide to when you’re fertile. From the opposite perspective, it can be a useful approach for optimising your chances of success when trying to conceive. And it’s interesting and generally a good thing to understand how your body works, and what’s going on at any given time. Not sure I’d want to rely on it as a sole method of birth control though.

lamo-girl // Posted 14 August 2009 at 9:29 pm

I recently found out that I have epilepsy and have been put on the anti-convulsive drug Lamotrogine. I am in a long term relationship and like the feeling of closeness with my boyf when not using a condom. However, because the lamo doesn’t mix well with many contraceptives, my options are less than limited!!

I was informed by my GP at the time, I got an implanon fitted. I was told many things that I was willing to put up with for the 3 months that it could take to settle. I am not however prepared to put up with what my new surgery is telling me!

When I got it fitted i was warned that I could have irregular bleeding for the first 3 months, along with mood swings and possible weight gain.

I have now had the implant in for 3 months.

I am still bleeding…NON STOP!

I have mood swings wherein the slightest thing, like my mum going on holiday reduced me to floods of tears (?!) and I flip out if my boyf makes a sinlge have negative comment!

My new surgery want to do tests because of previous issues, they believe something might be wrong with my cervix, and not the implant, or the fact that im on anti-convulsives.

Im being told that I have to wait AT LEAST another 3 months before they will do anything at all about it.

Im incredibly worried because I know that there isnt much that i can use contraceptive wise, and so if my doctor still refuses to help me, I will demand that it be removed, an older friend suggested the coil, and because of the lamo it would have be the non hormone coil, however I have heard that it can be very difficult to convince a doctor to fit one if you haven’t had any children and if they do give it to you its incredibly painful to have it fitted.

Im going insane foe some sort of conclusion or answer, I’ve had NO sex for almost 4 months and my boyfs going mad as well.

Dont know what to do!!

Help if you can, ANY suggestion, no matter what….as long as it doesnt make me cry :) is most definately appreciated and welcomed, Ta :)


Anna // Posted 15 August 2009 at 10:31 am

I had the same when I was on the implant – constant bleeding and continual tearies, it was highly unpleasant. They refused to take it out – in the end (I don’t know how old you are) but I turned up at the local family planning clinic threatening to take it out myself with a scalpel and a bottle of lidocaine I had bought off the internet. Obviously I’d never recommend anyone else try that – it might well have killed me if I had – but it seemed to get through to them that I wasn’t being fobbed off anymore with ‘oh, we’ll see how you’re doing in a month’ and they took it out there and then.

As to the contraceptive you use, I don’t know; I’ve been on and off antidepressants for a while (most of which don’t sit nicely with hormonal contraception, though whilst I could use it I found the patch _fantastic_) but for the last two years I’ve been using the withdrawal method. There’s been a number of scares, though, and it’s not the most reliable thing in the world.

Ruth // Posted 15 August 2009 at 11:18 am

That’s seriously poor service from the health system.

You don’t say what else you were recommended, but how about a diaphragm or cervical cap (much smaller, closer fitting, easier to put in and out, I swear by mine) combined with spermicide? It’s not a *lot* more disruptive than a condom, as long as you can organise to keep supplies near at hand and are scrupulous about following the instructions, and is pretty reliable. Been my only means of birth control for 20+ years, barring (2xplanned) pregnancy/lactation…

s_green24 // Posted 15 August 2009 at 1:38 pm


I have had the (non hormonal) coil fitted twice. I am 29 and have not had children. The first time at my drs surgery, the second at the family planning clinic. I have had it put in twice because the first one shifted. It is painful to have it put in but the pain can be reduced by taking painkillers beforehand and also asking for anesthetic.

The first time I had it put in I had really bad cramps for a few days to a week. the second time I had it put in (at the family planning clinic) I had cramps for a few hours.

The coil tends to make your periods last a bit longer and can make them heavier – with my first coil i was bleeding for 7 days but light for 3 or 4 of those, and it was actually less hassle than when I was on the pill. With my seocnd coil I am now bleeding for 5 days and the flow is heavier but not unmanageable or difficult in any way.

I would recommend going to the Family Planning Clinic for advice and getting it put in. they deal with this stuff every day, all day and are much more knowledgable and open than doctors surgeries who don’t specialise in these things.

does that help? if you want any more info contact me via my blog.

saranga (previously posted as s_green24) // Posted 15 August 2009 at 4:56 pm

Ahh, just noticed on my previous post i put the wrong link in to my site. this is now fixed.

I’ll also add that having the coil fitted, for me, certainly wasn’t ‘incredibly’ painful. it wasn’t comfortable or pleasant, but it’s not bad enough to stop me having it replaced if necessary.

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