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Family Blames Birth Control Patch in 14-year-old's Death

Nov 17, 2005 | AP

Parents of a 14-year-old Wisconsin girl who died last year are suing the makers of a popular birth control patch for failing to warn people sooner about serious side effects.

Eighth-grader Alycia Brown died of blood clots on May 7, 2004, after using Ortho Evra for about six weeks, according to the lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Madison.

Patch maker Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical warned last week that users will be exposed to higher doses of hormones that put them at greater risk for blood clots and other side effects. The warning came after federal death and injury reports showed patch users die and suffer blood clots at a higher rate than women taking the pill.

While dozens have sued Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Ortho-McNeil for deaths and injuries they blame on Ortho Evra, the La Crosse teen is the youngest known victim, said Janet Abaray, a Cincinnati lawyer whose firm represents Brown's family and many others.

Her mother, Lorie Brown, said she decided to put Alycia on birth control after finding a note from a friend suggesting she was having sex. She said she wanted her daughter to get a birth control shot, but Alycia was afraid of needles so she chose the patch.

"I know too many young girls that got pregnant and their whole life was done," Lorie Brown said. "I didn't want that for her, but I didn't want this either."

About 5 million women have used the patch since it went on the market in 2002. The Browns' lawsuit claims the company intentionally withheld information from its own clinical trials and Food and Drug Administration records suggesting the increased risks.

Julie Keenan, spokeswoman for New Jersey-based Ortho-McNeil, said she could not comment on pending litigation. The company issued a statement last week that it continues to study the product's safety.

After claiming Ortho Evra was as safe as the pill for years, the product's new warning labels say users will be exposed to about 60 percent more estrogen than those on birth control pills. In general, that puts users at a greater risk of side effects.

Abaray said the new warning was important but too late for victims such as Brown, who was supposed to go on a band trip to the Wisconsin Dells the day she died.

She went home from school after having trouble breathing and died hours later at a hospital. The cause of death was blood clots in her lower pelvis and Ortho Evra was likely a contributing factor, said John Steers, the La Crosse County medical examiner.

The family's lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the death of Alycia, who played the flute and volleyball, loved pets and talked about becoming a veterinarian.

Lorie Brown said it's been especially tough for Alycia's 12-year-old sister, Destiny, who sits in her room most days mourning the loss of her best friend.

"I'm out to let people know: get off (Ortho Evra). That's my biggest goal here," Lorie Brown said. "I didn't save her life, but maybe I can save somebody else's."

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