Washington, D.C. Woman Develops ONJ From Taking Zometa

(August 18, 2011) The U.S. Supreme Court denied a drug companies appeal of a $3.2 million jury verdict. A Washington, D.C. cancer patient was given the drug Zometa by her doctor after finding lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes, in October 2000 in her patient’s spine, pelvis and ribs.  Many doctors prescribe a class of drugs called bisphosphonates – one such brand name drug Zometa – to balance the loss of bone density caused by disease. Although there were no serious negative side effects reported at that time, three years later, the plaintiff in the court case originally brought in Montana State Court was diagnosed with osteonecrosis of the jaw.

ONJ or “dead jaw” is a rare bone disease in which the jawbone deteriorates and dies. To repair jawbone damage, which is not always successful, painful surgery(s) is required to remove dying bone tissue. The effects of ONJ include jaw pain, numbness, exposed oral bones, loss of teeth, and infection. Although she discontinued use after her diagnosis, traces of the drug were still found in her body, as Zometa can be found in the body up to ten years later.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corps – manufacturers of Zometa – claims in it’s original defense that chemotherapy and the plaintiff’s smoking habits were more likely causes of her dead jaw.   Novartis changed the Zometa label in June 2004 indicating that the majority of the reported cases of ONJ were “in cancer patients attendant to a dental procedure.”

The label advised, “Although causality cannot be determined, it is prudent to avoid dental surgery as recovery may be prolonged.”  If you have advanced breast cancer or a type of cancer called multiple myeloma, or if you have had dental extractions, periodontal disease, local trauma, including poorly fitting dentures, you may be at greater risk of getting ONJ.  You should maintain good oral hygiene and have a dental exam prior to beginning ZOMETA.

Since 2001, over 2,400 patients have reported bone death in their jaws after taking bisphosphonates such as Zometa. Most of these patients were taking potent, intravenously delivered forms of the drugs. However, ONJ has developed in patients taking the pill form as well.

This woman is given chemo and not even told that she can be left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, and potentially a ruined smile, and these pharmaceutical companies have the nerve to try and blame it on her smoking habits. ONJ wasn’t around 10 years ago, why is that? Because these bisphosphonates weren’t around longer than that; yet smoking has been around for over 100 years. How is this  justice? She could get her jaw replaced in the hospital, but do you think about what goes into that: a wired jaw for weeks, drinking through a straw, stuck in a hospital bed. Think about the term “dead jaw”: there is no one-time fix; you don’t just sit down in a dentists office and get it fixed. Not only that, but if she loses her teeth – which could certainly happen – there goes thousands more on medical bills for replacement teeth. ONJ could also cause puss which could potentially leak into the stomach and cause even more damage. Yet the pharmaceutical company Novartis has the audacity to try and blame the plaintiff’s smoking habits?!? This can’t be justice!

If you or a loved one have taken Zometa and have developed ONJ, you may be eligible for a dangerous drug claim. Please stop by our website or call us at 1-800-246-4878 to speak with one of our attorneys.

here is a photo of ONJ, or "dead jaw"


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