What regulators and health authorities around the world have failed to do, consumer action is accomplishing quite nicely. Last week, in response to falling sales revenue, Bayer announced that it would be withdrawing the Essure contraceptive device from the Canadian market. So far, only one country – Brazil – has gone so far as to issue an outright ban against the device, but in a growing list of countries, health care consumers are voting Essure out with their pocketbooks and their wallets.
Last week, Bayer published the following statement in the Toronto Star:
“In light of the change in patient demand, Bayer has decided to voluntarily discontinue the sale and distribution of Essure in Canada over the next few months. This decision was taken for commercial reasons, and the favourable benefit-risk profile of Essure remains unchanged. This is not a recall of the product from the market.”
In other words, despite Bayer's best efforts to convince the public of the safety and efficacy of their product, the word is getting out about Essure's dangers. What Bayer euphemistically refers to as the “change in patient demand” is due largely to the grassroots efforts of a group of women who have been injured by the device.
Calling themselves the “E-Sisters,” these women maintain an informational website, “Essure Problems,” and have a group on a major social media site with nearly 14,000 fans and over 13,400 followers. As a result, the customer base for Essure has dropped precipitously – and there isn't one thing the Bayer can do to reverse the trend. Canada now joins Finland and the U.K. on the increasing list of nations where Bayer has been forced to pull the product off the market for strictly commercial reasons.
Essure was first approved for the Canadian market in 2001. Last year, approximately 8,000 women in Canada, many of them between the ages of 20 and 40, had the Essure device implanted. Today, a group of 300 of them are banding together in a class-action lawsuit against Bayer, alleging injuries caused be the device.
The multi-million dollar question is: will falling consumer demand affect the availability of Essure in the U.S.? Furthermore, will it have any impact upon current and pending litigation against Bayer?
On the first question, Bayer has demonstrated that their sole concerns are revenues and profits. When enough women in the U.S. finally get the message and start boycotting the product, Bayer will have no choice but to voluntarily withdraw the product from the market.
On the litigation front, an attorney based in Saskatchewan has made an interesting observation. Tony Merchant and his firm are preparing to file the class-action lawsuit, which he believes will be certified later this year. He said that Bayer's voluntary withdrawal of Essure from the market might be tantamount to an admission of liability in the eyes of juries. He added, “If they thought it was a valuable, safe product, they’d continue to market it.”