FDA Calls for New Warnings on Contraceptive Device
(CNN)The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday that a new "black box warning" label is warranted for Essure, an implantable permanent contraceptive device. A black box warning in the labeling of products is "designed to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks," according to the FDA website.
Monday's announcement comes after more than 5,000 women filed grievances with the FDA between November 2002 and May 2015, complaining of unintended pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths and severe pain and bleeding after an Essure implantation.
Approved by the FDA in 2002, Essure is a permanent form of birth control in which a coil is non-surgically placed into a woman's fallopian tubes. Scar tissue is supposed to form around the device to prevent sperm from reaching eggs and fertilizing them, thus preventing pregnancy.
The FDA also called upon Bayer, which makes and markets Essure, to conduct surveillance that will assess "risks of the device in a real-world environment," and said the agency will use the results of that study to "determine what, if any, further actions related to Essure are needed to protect public health."
When reached for comment, Bayer provided the following response: "Essure is an important permanent birth control option with a positive benefit-risk profile and more than a decade of post marketing experience worldwide. Bayer will continue to work closely with the FDA to support the safe and effective use of Essure."
Reaction to the FDA announcement was swift and uncomplimentary.
"We are outraged that it appears as if the FDA is going to leave Essure on the market," said Essure Problems, a support group for women who say they have been damaged by the device. "Take the device OFF the market and revoke PMA [premarket approval]. Do not continue to allow more women to be harmed."
"It's unbelievable that it took the FDA since September to make just two recommendations with no enforcement measures and ask the manufacturer to perform another study while leaving Essure on the market," said Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania who has called for the FDAto revoke its approval of Essure. "It's been done. The evidence is all there: Tens of thousands of injured women and hundreds of fetal deaths."
"I feel as if the FDA truly failed these women," said Madris Tomes, a former FDA contractor whose business, Device Events, analyzes FDA public data. "My hope was that they would recommend a recall. How can we trust the FDA to make good decisions regarding safe and effective devices?"
Last week, Fitzpatrick and Tomes provided the FDA with raw data showing a total of 303 fetal deaths among women who used the device. The FDA has listed the number of fetal deaths at only five.
Tomes said she found the additional cases by using a different method of analysis than the FDA.
"Most of the story of what happened and all the side effects, those are going to be in the narrative," Tomes said. "So we searched for keywords in that narrative that women and their doctors would use, such as fetal death, miscarriage, still birth, stillborn and ectopic pregnancies."
"I actually think the 303 number is conservative," Tomes added, "because some of these women have had multiple miscarriages, they've had multiple pregnancies, after confirmation, but I only counted them once."
Fitzpatrick said because the FDA is failing to act, "I believe Congress must."
He vowed to present a number of legislative actions to the House and Senate, including working to block government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, from purchasing the device; introducing new legislation that would remove "blanket civil liability protections" that keep women from suing Bayer; and seeking passage of an act that would revoke Essure's FDA approval.
In their press release, Essure Problems also called for Congress to act. "While we continue to encourage women to file their adverse event reports with the FDA, our focus will be on Congress and the E-Free Act. We are disappointed but not surprised the FDA has once again chosen to side with industry rather than protect patients of a failed medical device."