People who took Benicar and other olmesartan-containing medications sued the maker and promoter of the drugs, claiming they were unaware the drugs could cause serious, gastrointestinal problems.
In August 2017, manufacturer Daiichi Sankyo and co-promoter Forest Laboratories agreed to settle all cases for $300 million. Litigation is still pending in some cases.
Patients filed more than 2,000 federal olmesartan lawsuits since early 2014.
The lawsuits started less than a year after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required Benicar’s manufacturer to make changes to the blood pressure medicine’s label reflecting its potential to cause severe gastrointestinal side effects.
Gastrointestinal injuries Alleged
George Williams was one of the first plaintiffs to file a suit against Daiichi Sankyo over injuries suffered from Benicar. After beginning treatment with Benicar, Williams was hospitalized for more than 100 days over a span of four years.
Not knowing that Benicar was the culprit, Williams continued to use the drug. His condition became so severe he eventually had to be fed through a tube.
In his lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court, Williams claimed olmesartan, the active ingredient in Benicar, caused severe, chronic diarrhea that also contributed to a compression fracture in his back and his developing cataracts in both eyes.
Hundreds of patients who filed lawsuits over Benicar, Benicar HCT, Tribenzor or Azor claimed the drugs caused gastrointestinal injuries.
These injuries included sprue-like enteropathy and lymphocytic colitis, a condition characterized by chronic, watery, non-bloody diarrhea.
Others alleged the drugs caused them to develop microscopic colitis, which is inflammation of the colon or large intestine resulting in persistent watery diarrhea and cramping.
Lawsuits also mentioned collagenous colitis, which is inflammatory bowel disease affecting the colon. The condition also features chronic, watery diarrhea without bleeding.
Misleading Marketing Claims
In 2015, federal judges consolidated 15 Benicar lawsuits against Daiichi and Forest Labs into a single legal action called a multidistrict litigation (MDL).
The MDL grew as patients filed hundreds of additional lawsuits.
As of November 2018, despite the settlement, there were 1,909 lawsuits still listed as pending in the federal MDL out of more than 2,300 that were filed.
There were roughly 70 other cases combined in New Jersey state court.
Accusations in Benicar Lawsuits
According to a master federal complaint, Daiichi spent $1 billion to promote Benicar and Benicar HCT between 2002 and 2008. The marketing materials omitted serious risks, and the drugs became top sellers.
Lawsuits cited the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Sankyo in 2006 that its promotional materials violated federal regulations. At the time, Sankyo had not yet merged with Daiichi.
According to the lawsuits, the FDA ordered Daiichi Sankyo and Forest to cease making claims that Benicar is superior to other drugs.
The agency directed corrective measures, including discontinuing use of approximately 50 promotional pieces dated all the way to 2002. The companies were also told to provide corrective messages to physicians who had received the materials.
Kickback Settlement Noted
Lawsuits described a federal whistleblower case that resulted in a $39 million payment by Daiichi Sankyo to Medicaid programs. The U.S. Department of Justice accused Daiichi of paying physicians’ speaker fees. The fees were part of Daiichi’s Physician Organization and Discussion programs.
As part of the settlement, Daiichi signed a corporate integrity agreement. The agreement required the company to put in place reforms for five years.
Most Opted for Settlement
Under the terms of the 2017 settlement, Daiichi Sankyo could have walked away from the entire deal if at least 95 percent of the plaintiffs did not agree to participate.
All but five plaintiffs opted into the settlement as of August 2018, meaning the deal is moving forward even as other litigation continues.
A portion of the money will pay attorney fees and expenses of the plaintiffs’ legal team and for a claims administrator to oversee payments.
Information about the settlement program can be found on the Olmesartan Products Resolution Program web page.
Daiichi Denied Wrongdoing
Despite agreeing to the multimillion-dollar payout, Daiichi Sankyo denied any liability for the injuries plaintiffs suffered and said “this litigation is without merit.”
“Daiichi Sankyo is committed to the health and safety of all patients taking our medications,” Executive Chairman and President Glenn Gormley said in a statement. “We believe a settlement is in the best interest of all, and will allow us to continue our focus on bringing to market innovative medicines that help people live healthy and meaningful lives.”
Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.