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Heartburn Medicine Lawsuits Combined into New Jersey MDL

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A federal panel has combined more than 160 lawsuits against makers of popular heartburn medicines into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in New Jersey. MDLs allow several similar lawsuits to move more quickly and efficiently through the legal process.

The lawsuits claim Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid and Protonix caused personal injuries or wrongful deaths after people took them. The medications are all part of a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

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People filing the lawsuits claim they or a loved one suffered kidney injuries including chronic kidney disease (CKD), acute interstitial nephritis (AIN), end-stage renal disease or kidney failure after taking the medications.

The lawsuits demand compensation from companies that manufacture or market the drugs including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, and Takeda. The lawsuits claim the companies failed to warn them of potential kidney damage caused by the medicines.

The drug makers, marketers and their products are:

  • AstraZeneca: Nexium, Prilosec
  • Proctor & Gamble: Prilosec OTC (over the counter version of Prilosec)
  • Takeda: Prevacid
  • Pfizer: Protonix, Nexium 24HR (over the counter version of Nexium)

The first PPI, Prilosec, received FDA approval in 1989, but warnings of potential kidney injuries from using the drugs were not included on labels until 2014.

Multiple Studies Link PPIs to Kidney Problems

The first report of a link between PPIs and acute interstitial nephritis was published in the American Journal of Medicine in 1992 — just three years after Prilosec became available. Multiple studies since then have shown an increased risk of kidney conditions among patients taking PPIs.

PPIs account for more than 100 million prescriptions every year in the U.S. and produce $14 billion in annual revenue worldwide for their manufacturers. As of early 2017, Nexium was estimated to be the 10th best-selling prescription drug of all time, accounting for more than $60 billion in sales since it came on the market in 2001.

Studies have found the drugs to be overprescribed and the FDA acknowledges people use over-the-counter versions more frequently than they should. Some estimates have found that only about 30 to 40 percent of the people taking PPIs actually need the drugs. The rest could see similar or better benefits from other medications or lifestyle changes.

MDL Approved After Spike in Cases

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) had rejected a similar bid to combine PPI lawsuits in February. At the time, plaintiffs asked to combine only 15 cases. The JPML said there was too much difference between the cases, believed the pretrial phase would be too “defendant-specific,” and did not involve enough lawsuits against a broad enough number of companies to warrant consolidation into an MDL.

The panel reversed course after the number of cases “has increased significantly” since its February decision.

In addition to the 161 cases combined by the JPML’s August order, another 34 lawsuits in other federal courts are expected to be included as so-called “tag-along” cases in the MDL. The panel also anticipated in its earlier ruling that the number of lawsuits could increase “by the hundreds if not thousands.” An unspecified number of state lawsuits have also been filed over PPI injuries.

More than 60 of the lawsuits were originally filed in New Jersey federal court, more than any other district.

“The district is a relatively convenient venue, and enjoys the support of most plaintiffs, as well as the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and P&G defendants,” JPML chair Judge Sarah Vance wrote in the transfer order on the reason New Jersey was chosen as the location for the MDL.

Terry Turner
Written By Terry Turner Writer

Terry Turner has been writing articles and producing news broadcasts for more than 25 years. He covers FDA policy, proton pump inhibitors, and medical devices such as hernia mesh, IVC filters, and hip and knee implants. An Emmy-winning journalist, he has reported on health and medical policy issues before Congress, the FDA and other federal agencies. Some of his qualifications include:

  • American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates member
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Literacy certificates
  • Original works published or cited in Washington Examiner, MedPage Today and The New York Times
  • Appeared as an expert panelist on hernia mesh lawsuits on the BBC

6 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

  1. U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. (2017, August 2). Transfer Order. Retrieved from:
  2. U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. (2017, February 2). Order Denying Transfer. Retrieved from:
  3. Bodine, L. (2017, June 21). JPMDL to Reconsider Proton Pump Inhibitor MDL at July 27 Hearing. Retrieved from:
  4. Bellon, T. (2017, August 3). Proton-Pump Inhibitor MDL Repeats on JPML, Second Request is Granted. Retrieved from:
  5. Goldman, B. (2015, January 29). Some Heartburn Drugs may Boost Risk of Heart Attack, Study Finds. Retrieved from:
  6. Williams, S. (2017, March 13). The 19 Best-Selling Prescription Drugs of All Time. Retrieved from:
View All Sources
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