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How Women Are More Affected by Dangerous Drugs and Devices than Men

Throughout history, women have been disproportionately impacted by drugs or devices with dangerous side effects – and they continue to be. Time and again, pharmacies have willingly put profit over safety, and women, more often than not, have paid the price. 

In the 1960s, women were given an addictive drug – famously coined as “mother’s little helper” – to treat hysteria. But this drug, profitable as it was, wasn’t the cure-all for anxiety; instead, it put women at an increased risk of misusing drugs, overdosing and other dangerous side effects, such as birth defects. More recently, women have suffered serious side effects from a contraceptive called Essure birth control, which was discontinued in 2018 and involved 39,000 injury claims. Other devices such as a transvaginal mesh for treating urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse have also led to serious complications in many of its female consumers. And yet, pharmacies have chosen to invest more funding on promoting the benefits of these drugs and devices and concealing any foreseeable side effects, over expanding the research that focuses on women’s health and includes more women’s participation in clinical studies. 

A study found that most drugs the FDA withdrew in recent years had greater health risks for women than men. In another report, women made up 67 percent of the 340,000 people who were injured by a medical device. A recent study also shows women suffering worse side effects than men in 90 percent of cases and experiencing adverse drug reactions twice as often, according to research by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. 

The Root of the Issue: Women’s Underrepresentation

It’s true that prescription drugs affect women differently than men due to inherent gender differences. In addition, some diseases – such as breast cancer and urinary incontinence – disproportionally or differentially impact women. As women, our bodies are more sensitive to the effects of drugs and medical devices than men. Women are also more prone to take drugs – though in smaller doses – but quicker to progress from first use to addiction. But these innate differences in the human body will always be there, and they are not an excuse for any industry to produce and sell unsafe products. Rather, these differences need to be addressed and understood by the pharmaceutical industry before a drug or device is made available to consumers.

The only way to effectively make drugs and devices safer for women is through a complete and accurate understanding of how women respond differently to different drugs or devices – something that can only be attained through medical research and proper testing from clinical trials that consistently represent women.

There is a clear, undeniable gender gap in medical research, and while it has improved over time, there is still a long way to go. 

In 1977, the FDA banned “women of childbearing potential” from participating in Phase I and early Phase II drug trials. While this was done, in part, to protect women, it had the opposite effect and a direct impact on women’s health. Even though the FDA’s ban ended in 1993, not enough has changed when it comes to attitudes and perceptions around inclusion. Today only about a third of participants in clinical trials are female. Many studies don’t even report gender-specific results, and this “one-size-fits-all” assumption hurts women every day. 

What You Can Do

Women cannot and should not be excluded from research and clinical trials. If companies are going to sell drugs and devices to women, then they should just as often represent them in their research and studies. It is not okay for pharmaceutical companies to mislead you. If you are a female and have been injured by a dangerous drug or device, we can connect you to a legal professional that can help you and stand by you. You deserve to be treated fairly, and for your concerns to be taken seriously.

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