Consumers harmed by the blood thinner Xarelto (rivaroxaban) won a significant victory in a Pennsylvania court earlier this week. A Philadelphia jury issued a $27.8 million verdict against the drug's manufacturers, Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson. The award included $26 million in punitive damages.
Millions of Americans take Xarelto. The drug is commonly prescribed to decrease the risk of strokes and blood clots in patients with atrial fibrillation. It's also used to prevent deep-vein thrombosis following high-risk procedures such as hip and knee surgery.
As of last year, it was one of the most frequently prescribed blood thinners nationwide, according to CBS News. And it's one of the best-selling drugs in Bayer's portfolio, generating $2.2 billion in 2016 alone.
The drug belongs to the latest generation of blood thinners. It's still relatively new to the market, having gained FDA approval in 2011. Its predecessor - warfarin - carried a worrisome risk of fatal bleeding. That drug required ongoing monitoring and frequent dosage adjustments to keep the risk at a manageable level. Xarelto supposedly offers the same effectiveness with less risk (and without the hassle of regular blood checks). However, it's since come to light that these claims may not be true - and that big pharmacy failed to disclose the dangers.
Thousands of patients across the country have suffered internal bleeding after taking the drug, often resulting in hospitalization and sometimes even death. Unlike warfarin-related bleeding, which can be controlled if caught quickly enough, Xarelto has no effective antidote. The drug has been linked to not only gastro-intestinal bleeding, but also cerebral hemorrhages, platelet deficiencies, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (a rare but severe skin reaction) and an increased risk of infection.
Blood thinners as a class have high rates of complications. They're responsible for more ER visits than any other type of drug, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices found that Xarelto in particular accounted for more than two-thirds of blood thinner-related complications last year.
The recent jury verdict is a step toward justice. Yet the court battle is far from over. Bayer and Johnson & Johnson have already announced their intent to appeal the decision. And across the country, more than 20,000 lawsuits involving Xarelto remain pending.