In December 2011, a Mississippi mom filed a new lawsuit against Wyeth and Pfizer, manufacturers of the antidepressant Effexor. The case was initially filed in the Northern District of Mississippi, and was transferred in August 2013 to the Effexor MDL in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The plaintiff claims that after taking the drug during her pregnancy, she gave birth to a daughter with birth defects. She is suing the defendants for allegedly failing to provide adequate warnings on the product label, and for manufacturing an unreasonably dangerous drug.
Research on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, which are similar to Effexor, reports a link between these drugs and birth defects like persistent pulmonary hypertension of a newborn (PPHN), heart defects, cranial defects, limb malformations, and abdominal defects.
Plaintiff Claims Effexor Caused Birth Defects
According to court documents, the Mississippi mom took Effexor from August 4, 2008, to December 23, 2008, when her daughter was born. She claims that she wasn’t aware of any potential connection between the drug and birth defects, and that her doctors also were not aware of any such link.
The plaintiff claims her daughter now suffers significant birth defects allegedly caused by Effexor, and that these defects will continue to affect her for the rest of her life. She seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Studies Link Effexor with Potential Risks During Pregnancy
The FDA approved Effexor (venlafaxine) in 1993 to treat major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and panic disorders in adults. In 2009, Pfizer acquired Wyeth, who was the original manufacturer.
Though similar to SSRI antidepressants, Effexor works in a slightly different way. Called a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), it helps block the reabsorption of both serotonin and norepinephrine, while SSRIs focus solely on serotonin. The dual action of the drug is believed to help prevent depression, calm anxiety, and reduce neuropathic pain, such as that which may occur with diabetes.
Despite the small difference, both classes of drugs have been associated with birth defects. The FDA classifies Effexor as a grade C, which means that animal studies have shown the medication to harm unborn offspring when taken by the mother during pregnancy. A 2010 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal also reported that women who take the drug while pregnant double their risk of miscarriage.
Another study, also published in 2010 (Pediatrics), reported that women who took Effexor in late pregnancy gave birth to babies that suffered developmental delays at 6 and 19 months.
The results of this study suggest a permanent or reversible effect of antidepressant exposure on fetal brain development, the researchers wrote, which may depend on the timing of exposure during pregnancy.
A number of other studies have linked SSRI antidepressants to birth defects, including heart defects. The FDA has warned doctors to thoroughly discuss the potential risks with pregnant moms before prescribing any antidepressant drugs.
Parents with children who suffer from birth defects who believe an antidepressant may be to blame could be eligible to recover damages in court.