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Firefighter using AFFF foamFirefighters have a host of tools available to them to fight fires. Some of these are simple, like high-pressure water. Others are more state-of-the-art, like forward-looking infrared handheld cameras and aerial drones. One of the special tools in a firefighter’s arsenal is aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF. This “fire foam” has served as a highly effective fire suppressant for about half a century. Unfortunately, exposure to this substance has been linked to serious health problems, including cancer.

Let’s take a closer look at AFFF, its relationship to cancer and what it means for those who might have been exposed.

What Is AFFF?

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Today I finish my conversation with Physical Therapist Amy Dougherty on specific problems that may arise with metal-on-metal artificial hip failures:

Clay: Over the past ten years you have seen a lot of metal-on-metal hip implants. Several years ago an attempt was made to put a metal-on-metal artificial hip together, and that was supposed to last forever, or last a whole lot longer, and it turned out that it was problematic. And I know you have had many patients who have had that [implant]. What did you see out of the metal-on-metal hip implants when they were failing?

Physical therapist assisting patient after hip replacement surgery.Amy: Again, the first cardinal sign that I saw was chronic pain, an inability to weight bear normally through that joint. So even after normal hip replacement, the patient should be able to weight bear through it. It should not feel like they collapse on that hip, and so a limp that never resolves or an inability to get away from an assistive device. So, I had a patient in her 50s that could not get off a walker. She was 50. She was playing tennis five days a week before she had her hip replaced. Yes, with the metal-on-metal she suffered metallosis and she had an overt failure of that joint replacement. She was a candidate for this new [metal-on-metal implant], now widely known to be a bad device, because she was so young, active, fit, and healthy. It was supposed to last for longer. It was supposed to allow her to have more function larger range of motion, less risk of dislocation and all of those things. So as we know, that did not really work out so well.

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Let’s dive back in to my hip replacement surgery conversation with Physical Therapist Amy Dougherty, who discusses what sports to avoid after hip surgery and what it feels like when a person suffer an artificial hip failure:

Safe and Unsafe Activities and Sports

Clay: What are some sports that you would discourage [after hip replacement surgery]? I know there is a huge range of results and people who are dealing with certain physical issues. But are there any sports you’ve seen as a physical therapist that you say “Do not do this after hip replacement surgery?”

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Physical therapist helps patient recover from artificial hip surgery
My friend Amy Dougherty is a physical therapist in North Carolina and operates Outer Banks Physical Therapy. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (where I also attended college and law school). She is an outstanding physical therapist and is beloved by her patients on the Outer Banks. Amy answers many of your questions about hip replacement surgery, metal-on-metal artificial hips, and the problems that have arisen from these hip products.

Clay: I want to focus on hip replacement surgery and I know you work with patients who are dealing with that kind of surgery every week. So let me start by asking what are a few reasons a person might need a hip replacement surgery?

Amy: You know, the most common reason is arthritic changes in the hip. So basically arthritis, that is the most common reason. Other reasons can include things like trauma. Some people have congenital mal-alignments where, it is basically called dysplasia where through the process of their development in utero and then following their bony surfaces of the femur, that is the long thigh bone and the acetabulum which is in the pelvis. They do not form correctly, so they might have ill-formed femoral heads. They might have ill-formed or ill-shaped acetabulum. So, the ball and the socket are not really designed well to weight bear. So, a lot of folks that, especially in a young population, that have early onset hip replacements. It is more likely the result of some type of congenital dysplasia. It could be a trauma. So, but arthritic changes is the number one reason and I have total hip replacement patients in my clinic every day. Very popular surgery, yes.

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Patient's medical records and personal injury cases
Health care is an industry that, for the most part, is pretty quick to make the most of new technology. One such area is medical records.

With the increased capabilities and reduced costs of computers, networks and electronic storage, electronic health records (EHR) are primed to take full advantage of what information technology has to offer the medical field. These advantages can include better cost efficiency and improved patient care.

That’s one reason why Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). This law set out to promote the use and adoption of EHR and medical information technology.

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Zantac and generic ranitidine
Generic drugs are a big deal in the United States. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 90% of prescription medications are filled with a generic drug. One of the reasons so many people take generic medications is the cost savings. From 2007 to 2016, generic medications saved $1.67 trillion. A generic version of Zantac has been sold since 1997.

But how is a generic drug different from a brand-name drug? Does this difference matter in the Zantac litigation? If so, where does innovator liability come in? I’ll address these questions in the following blog post. But first, a brief update into the Zantac litigation.

Current Status of Zantac Litigation

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iStock-518657244-300x286In Part 2 of this series we looked at the development of ranitidine (brand name Zantac), its rise as a hugely profitable heartburn drug, and the discovery that the carcinogen NDMA was found in rantidine, eventually leading to its recall and removal from the market. In this Part 3 I discuss how ranitidine can evolve into the cancer-causing chemical NDMA.

Nanitidine Can Form NDMA in the Stomach

When ranitidine enters the stomach, it can interact with “nitrites.” Nitrites are chemicals often found in spicy or salty foods. Food producers add nitrites to certain foods to prolong shelf life. All the way back in 1981, Dr. Silvio de Flora published a study showing that when ranitidine is introduced to nitrites it can lead to “toxic effects.” Dr. de Flora cautioned that if people take ranitidine, they should eat foods low in nitrites and avoid ranitidine near meal times.

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Zantac Master Complaint
In Part 1 I discussed the concept of the Master Complaint in product liability multi-district litigation, and we also set the table with the plaintiffs and the many defendant-companies involved in the Zantac litigation. Now let’s keep grinding through the Zantac Master Complaint. The story of Zantac, the presence of the carcinogen NDMA, and the links to cancer can be found in the Factual Allegations, beginning on page 39 of the Master Complaint. (Note that I use the brand-name Zantac and its actual name ranitidine mostly interchangeably in this post.)

These are the key elements of the story:

Inventing and Selling Ranitidine

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Zantac Master ComplaintIf you truly want to learn about a particular litigation involving a defective product (such as Zantac), the best place to start is the Master Complaint. This is the lengthy comprehensive document filed by the plaintiffs in a multi-district litigation involving a defective product. This does not mean the case is a class action. Most product liability cases are not class action lawsuits but are rather individual lawsuits gathered together in a “multi-district litigation or MDL.” These cases are transferred from across the country in one court, where one federal court judge will oversee the litigation until either (1) a global settlement is reached or (2) the cases are ready to be returned to the their home courts for trial.

The multi-district litigation involving the drug Zantac is located in the Southern District of Florida (MDL No. 2924). On June 22, 2020 the plaintiffs filed their Master Personal Injury Complaint. It is a long and detailed document, and it is worth your time to read if you have taken Zantac over an extended period, and certainly if you have taken Zantac and later developed cancer.

ZantacMany people, understandably, are not thrilled to read a 158-page legal document. So today and in the days to follow I am going to write up key bullet points from the Zantac Master Complaint. First, a few general guidelines: a complaint is the document a plaintiff files in a court to start a civil case. It can be a single page, alleging that the neighbor’s dog bit the plaintiff and caused injuries, or it can be hundreds of pages long, involving many defendants and many claims. The key thing to remember is that the complaint involves allegations, not proven facts. It may well be that every word of a complaint is true and that the plaintiffs provide compelling evidence for every allegation at trial. But at the start of a civil case the complaint should be understood as a series of allegations, which the defendants are allowed to deny and which they often deny. And that’s where the courts and juries come in: to figure out which side has proven its case.

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Elmiron and Vision Loss
Elmiron (pentosan polysulfate sodium) is a prescription medication that was approved in 1996 for the treatment of interstitial cystitis. This condition is sometimes referred to as painful bladder syndrome and can consist of a range of symptoms. These can vary from the occasional mild discomfort to constant and significant pain in the bladder or lower abdomen of the body.

Currently, Elmiron is the only FDA-approved oral medication to treat interstitial cystitis. As a result, numerous individuals have taken the medication for an extended period. But over the past few years, several studies have been published that indicate that some people may suffer from vision problems from taking Elmiron. Some of the more notable studies came out in 2018 and 2019.

This blog post will examine the possibility of Elmiron causing vision loss in patients, its current status with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and what its makers, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Janssen) and Johnson & Johnson, potentially face in litigation.

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