Waltina Gadsden kicked off the New Year in 2001 as many of us do, with a resolve to take better care of her health. At 55 years old, Waltina was at a normal weight and had few health problems. She began taking Lipitor on her doctor’s advice to lower her level of “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Three years later, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Her diabetes has since caused liver failure and other crippling complications requiring multiple surgeries. Life is hard, but knowing all of this could have been prevented is even harder.
Lipitor Users Were Not Warned
Type 2 diabetes is entirely preventable if caught early. But Waltina, like tens of thousands of others, was not warned about Lipitor’s great potential to cause the disease. If she or her doctor had known about the risks, she could have taken appropriate steps to protect herself such as getting regular blood screenings or choosing not to take the statin altogether. She’s now joining hundreds of other injured patients in a lawsuit against the manufacturer.
Evidence shows that Pfizer was aware of the link between Lipitor and type 2 diabetes by at least 2006, but didn’t add a warning to its packaging until it was forced to by the FDA in 2012. However, instead of honestly and clearly explaining the risk, Pfizer came up with this confusing label: “Increases in HbA1c and fasting serum glucose levels have been reported with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, including LIPITOR.” Doctors aren’t fooled by this, so are they just trying to confuse the public?
Compare Pfizer’s warning to that of its chief competitor in the statin market, Astra Zeneca, which makes Crestor. Astra Zeneca warns that Crestor “has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes mellitus.” Clear and direct.
Pfizer’s Secrecy Dictated by Profits
Why has Pfizer been so vague about the link between Lipitor and type 2 diabetes? According to the AARP, Lipitor is one of the best selling drugs in history, used by more than 17 million people and generating $131 billion in sales since 1997. Between December of 2006 (when evidence showed Pfizer knew the drug was causing diabetes) and December 2012 (after the company “sort of” complied with the FDA to disclose the risk) the retail price for Lipitor 20mg tablets rose by more than 50 percent, from $1,290 to $ $2,140. The company stood to lose billions of dollars if the diabetes-link had been disclosed in 2006.
It’s clear the company calculated that it would make much more money by staying quiet than it risked in lawsuit payouts when patients became aware of how they had been misled. For this callous disregard for the safety of its customers, Pfizer should be made to pay victims as much as it has made in profits from Lipitor – and then some. Unless the punishment for doing so is greater than the reward, unscrupulous companies will continue to withhold information from the public to protect their bottom lines. Missing from the equation will be the enormous cost in suffering of people like Waltina Gadsden.