Samantha Reckis, who at age 7 suffered a severe reaction to the drug Motrin, has received at least some hope of compensation for her years of suffering and permanent damage.
More than 5 years after the suit was filed, jurors in Plymouth, Mass. agreed that $50 million dollars should be awarded to Samantha and over $12 million to her parents after finding health and beauty giant Johnson & Johnson liable for physically devastating damages suffered from a little-known severe reaction to Children’s Motrin. If the trial judge goes for it, Johnson & Johnson would pay $109 million if interest is considered. However, an award that big for an individual case is very rare – so it could be thrown out.
Samantha was 7 when she was given Children’s Motrin (ibuprofen) and suffered an allergic reaction that developed into toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), a condition in which the blood vessels in the skin are damaged to the point where the skin becomes necrotic and infection can set in. Samantha’s condition was described like “having your skin burned off” and in truth, that is what happened.
At one point she required emergency surgery requiring a drill to relieve pressure on her brain, caused by a buildup of fluids. Although TEN has an extremely high mortality rate, Samantha survived , but still has an 80% loss of lung function and permanent partial blindness in both eyes as a teenager.
The family sued on the grounds that the warning label on the Children’s Motrin in no way indicated that such a horrible reaction could occur. Many doctors are aware of a lesser condition caused by the prescription version, but this family’s doctors were at loss until one finally figured out the connection.
Throughout the suit, Johnson & Johnson maintained that their product was labeled appropriately, stating:
The Reckis family has suffered a tragedy, and we sympathize deeply with them — A number of medicines, including ibuprofen, have been associated with allergic reactions and as noted on the label, consumers should stop using medications and immediately contact a healthcare professional if they have an allergic reaction. (Source)
But most parents don’t associate an allergic reaction with skin burns and skin death, or permanent blindness. Also, this condition is called TEN and can be caused by multiple factors and only rarely from an allergic reaction. Along with their heartfelt concern, Johnson & Johnson also stated that they are still exploring other legal options.
Maybe instead, Johnson & Johnson (the family company) should assess a cause; they have been ushered into court at least four times for similar cases involving Children’s Motrin, costing them nearly $70 million compensation to young victims. J&J got away with paying nothing in another case where an 11 year old was left completely blind. A similar case went in favor of a Pennsylvania girl who lost 84% of her skin and suffered blindness and brain damage after a reaction to Children’s Motrin.
Dr Robert Sundel, a rheumatologist unassociated with the case, said that much is still unknown about the disease and what triggers such severe reactions in some patients. While specialists believe the syndrome can be caused by viral infections, malignancies, or severe allergic reactions to medication, the leading cause appears to be the use of antibiotics and sulfa drugs, he said. He was very careful to say rare cases should not dissuade parents from using Children’s Motrin.
It is important to remember that many deadly drug reactions are from drugs originally approved safe by the FDA. It took years, but we now know that ibuprofenand acetaminophen can cause liver and kidney damage respectively, among other conditions. We’re finally figuring out the global impact from overuse of antibiotics. When approved safe without warnings, people like the kids who contracted skin death can battle lifelong irreversible damage before anyone even figures out what’s wrong. Warnings, however, do not remedy the cause – they cover future liability after enough people have paid the price. It’s similar to traffic lights that are only installed after a certain number of people have died in that particular intersection.
Instead of taking the risk, no matter how small, it may be best to seek the natural “counterparts” to pain medicine. For instance, Bayer’s Aspirin was originally derived from components of Willow Bark and later made synthetically. Natural pain relievers that the Native Americans favored give back to the body, whereas synthetic ones take up pain receptor sites (weakening the body’s ability to address pain), accumulate in organs and bones, require a lot of energy to use, and cause toxic conditions. It’s even speculated that women who take lots of ibuprofen for cramps have weaker uterine muscles when they need them during childbirth, since the medication alleviates pain by stopping menstrual contractions. Not that pain/fever meds aren’t helpful during a dire emergency, but they should not be taken with the frequency that many people do.
Lastly, natural pain relievers cannot be patented!
Read other articles by Heather Callaghan