More than 85 women have filed complaints in seven different state courts against stores that sell branded pain relievers. Walmart, Inc., CVS Health Corp., and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. are among the Defendants named in the cases.
The plaintiffs cite recent studies that link acetaminophen to babies’ increased risk of suffering developmental problems. Plaintiffs’ petitions allege that their children’s autism, attention-deficit problems, or hyperactivity were caused by significant amounts of acetaminophen taken by expectant mothers.
Failure to Warn
Failure to warn is a main cause of action in these cases.The women charge that they should have been warned about the risks.
A 42-year-old California plaintiff, Melissa McEvoy, said acetaminophen makers and sellers “should have paid greater attention to the growing research linking it to developmental issues.” She took acetaminophen to treat headaches while pregnant with her son, now 11, who is on the autism spectrum. “There should always be the information (about) the potential risks,” said Ms. McEvoy, “so that you can make an informed decision for yourself.”
The accused companies selling acetaminophen deny that it can harm fetal development. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists back the companies’ view. ACOG claims acetaminophen is safe for pregnant women to take. It says the research is inconclusive and shows no direct link between acetaminophen and a child’s neurodevelopmental disorders.
Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an emailed statement that the company doesn’t manufacture these products. “We expect suppliers to provide safe and quality products that comply with all applicable laws, including labeling requirements,” said Mr. Hargrove.”
CVS and Walgreens representatives chose not to comment on the lawsuits.
St. Louis or California MDL Court Proposed
Some lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked a panel of federal judges in St. Louis to consolidate the suits in the multi-district litigation (MDL) case so they can share information and schedule test trials. Others wish to establish an MDL in northern California. The companies, however, oppose the establishment of an MDL court in this litigation.
A member of the panel in St. Louis, US District Judge Matthew Kennelly from Chicago, said during a hearing last week that there was the potential for many more claims given how many pregnant women rely on acetaminophen for pain.
“This could get really gigantic,” said Judge Kennelly.
Acetaminophen Use and Autism Rise Concerning
Obstetricians estimate that 65% of US women take acetaminophen at some point during pregnancy, and about 50% of pregnant women take it worldwide. Doctors recommended acetaminophen to women for years as a safe treatment for pregnancy aches and pains. Ibuprofen, a common alternative, isn’t normally recommended for pregnant women.
Some plaintiffs’ lawyers think the large numbers of pregnant women taking acetaminophen may lead to hundreds of thousands of potential plaintiffs suing over acetaminophen. More than 3.5 million births occurred in 2020.
One court filing has claimed the acetaminophen-autism suits could represent one of the largest multi-district litigations in US history.
Autism affects 1-in-44 8-year-old children. Attention-deficit disorders, including hyperactivity, are also increasing in numbers. More than 9% of kids ages two to 17 are considered hyperactive. The CDC has found the rate of development disabilities between the ages of three and 17 rose more than 17% over a two-year period that began in 2015.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are filing more and more of these lawsuits now because they say science linking acetaminophen and autism-spectrum ailments has become more clear in the last few years. They say more than 20 peer-reviewed studies show the link between acetaminophen and developmental disorders. They point to a 2018 study – published in the American Journal of Epidemiology — which showed a 20% increase in autism risk when pregnant women use higher doses of acetaminophen.
ACOG, however, says the research isn’t conclusive.
“[The studies] show no clear evidence that proves a direct relationship between the prudent use of acetaminophen during any trimester and fetal developmental issues. Neuro-developmental disorders, in particular, are multi-factorial and very difficult to associate with a singular cause. The brain does not stop developing until at least 15 months of age, which leaves room for children to be exposed to a number of factors that could potentially lead to these issues.”
And so the debate has begun. The investigations have begun. Time will tell if the evidence will convince juries across the country or in a potential MDL in St. Louis or Northern California.
The case attempting to establish an MDL in St. Louis is In RE: Acetaminophen-ASD/ADHD Products Liability Litigation, MDL, No. 3043, US Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (St. Louis).