Effexor belongs to a class of prescription antidepressant medications known as SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. These drugs were developed more recently than their counterparts, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and have shown to be slightly more effective in treating depression than SSRIs. SNRI antidepressants function by inhibiting the “reuptake” of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, two neurotransmitters responsible for affecting mood, whereas SSRIs act only upon serotonin. Effexor was approved by the FDA in 1993 and has since been prescribed to individuals suffering from major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. The drug is also commonly used for off-label purposes, including the treatment of panic disorder and diabetic neuropathy. Effexor (venlafaxine) is manufactured by drug company Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, now a division of Pfizer, Inc., along with another antidepressant called Pristiq (desvenlafaxine).
Although Effexor and other SNRI antidepressants have proven to be successful in treating depression and other mood disorders, research has indicated that these drugs may be linked to the development of major birth defects among infants. According to a number of studies, infants whose mothers take certain antidepressants while pregnant may have a significantly increased risk of being born with one or more major birth defects, including:
While some of these birth defects can be treated successfully, others have the potential to cause life-threatening complications for an affected child. Even for those malformations which can be treated, the proper medical care is likely to result in exorbitant medical expenses, which may be an overwhelming burden for an already physically and emotionally distressed victim and family.
Because SNRI antidepressants are relatively new, there are very few medications of this kind on the market so far, and little to no research has concentrated on this type of antidepressant drug in particular. However, because SNRIs like Effexor are so similar in nature to SSRIs, the plethora of birth defect studies involving SSRI drugs can be examined in order to evaluate the potentially harmful nature of drugs like Effexor. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006, infants whose mothers took certain antidepressant drugs during pregnancy were six times more likely to be born with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), a life-threatening heart and lung condition. Two additional antidepressant birth defect studies were published in 2007 in the NEJM which indicated a connection between the use of certain antidepressants during pregnancy and the development of serious birth defects among infants, including cleft lip, cleft palate, anal atresia, club foot, limb defects, neural tube birth defects, anencephaly, omphalocele, and craniosynostosis. Other studies published in the American Journal of Nursing and Clinical Epidemiology in 2010 found that infants exposed to certain antidepressants in utero were more likely to be born with heart defects, particularly atrial septal defects and ventricular septal defects.
The FDA has labeled Effexor a pregnancy category C medication, which means the drug has the potential to cause serious harm to a human fetus when taken during pregnancy. Furthermore, in response to the 2006 NEJM study, the FDA issued a public health advisory warning patients and healthcare providers about the potential connection between the use of SSRIs during pregnancy and the development of PPHN among infants. The FDA also required all sponsors of SSRI drugs to update their drugs’ warning labels to include potential pregnancy precautions, namely PPHN.
If you are currently taking Effexor and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your physician as soon as possible. According to the FDA, physicians should avoid prescribing category C medications to pregnant women unless the possible benefits of the treatment outweigh the potential risks to the fetus. It may be dangerous to suddenly discontinue use of a prescription medication without medical consent, as this may cause further damage. However, with the help of your healthcare provider, you may be able to find a safer alternative to Effexor for treating your condition.
Despite these potential dangers, these antidepressant drugs remain on the market, available to millions of consumers across the country, including pregnant women. In fact, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 80,000 pregnant women are prescribed SSRI antidepressants in any given year. If you or a loved one has suffered from a birth defect and you believe Effexor to be the cause, contact an Effexor attorney as soon as possible. You may be entitled to reimbursement for your injuries, medical expenses, and pain and suffering, which you can collect by filing an Effexor lawsuit against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (Pfizer).
Besides seeking financial compensation, defective drug lawsuits also bring public attention to the importance of safe medications and the need for more stringent regulations on the dangerous drugs already on the market. Drug manufacturing companies are responsible for the safety of their medications even after they enter the market, and should be held liable for any adverse side effects sustained by consumers of their products. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Some pharmaceutical companies intentionally conceal the harmful nature of their drugs in order to expedite the FDA approval process and to ensure their drug is well-received by the public. This puts millions of consumers unknowingly at risk of suffering severe injuries, illness, and even death, which could have been avoided had the drug company taken the appropriate steps to avoided unnecessary harm. Defective drug litigation can be a complicated process, but with the help of a qualified Effexor lawyer, victims of alleged Effexor birth defects can feel confident that their case will be effectively and professionally represented.