The TV ad opens with Chris Bosh sinking a three in a dark practice gym and then turning solemnly toward the camera. “When I was sidelined with blood clots in my lungs, it was serious,” the ten-time All-Star says. “Fortunately, my doctor had a game plan.”
The camera then catches up with Bosh at a golf course, where he meets Arnold Palmer, comedian Kevin Nealon, and NASCAR driver Kevin Vickers, who all join him in praising the drug Bosh credits with saving his life: Xarelto, a new-wave blood thinner that’s become a billion-dollar bestseller.
“Treatment with Xarelto,” Bosh says, before letting Palmer finish his thought, “was the right move for us.”
It wasn’t the right move for Jessica Brown, though. The 37-year-old South Florida medical technician says she suffered terrifying blood loss while taking the drug — and she’s far from alone in those claims. In fact, more than 3,400 lawsuits around the nation have been filed against Xarelto’s maker and distributors, alleging the drug has caused numerous deaths and caused unstoppable bleeding in thousands of patients.
“I’ve seen that commercial with Bosh and the other guys, and it’s full of crap,” Brown says. “I just shake my head seeing them pushing this drug.”
Xarelto, which is made by Bayer and marketed in the U.S. by Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subdivision of Johnson & Johnson), received full FDA approval four years ago. It’s part of a new wave of drugs trying to knock out warfarin, a type of drug most commonly sold as Coumadin, which has long been the most popular treatment for clots. But warfarin comes with onerous side effects, including restrictive diets and regular check-ins. Xarelto doesn’t. That helped it top $1 billion in sales by last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But lawyers across the country are now arguing there’s a dark side to that convenience. Though warfarin-based drugs also increase the risk of massive bleeding, it’s easily counteracted in hospitals. There’s no such antidote for Xarelto, says Boca Raton attorney Joseph Osborne, so if a patient on the drug falls down the stairs or is injured in a car accident, bleeding can be uncontrollable.
“You’re at a much greater risk of bleeding out compared to warfarin,” Osborne says.
That’s what Brown says happened to her. While treating an irregular heartbeat, her doctor placed her on Xarelto to prevent clots. But when she got her next period, she began bleeding heavily. Soon she was weak and unable to walk. She was rushed to the ER and needed a two-pint blood transfusion.
“I could have bled to death,” she says. “Thank God it was just my period and it wasn’t a head injury or something.”
Thousands of suits like Brown’s have now been consolidated in a Louisiana federal court. “It’s our position that the drug never should have been approved as a once-a-day tablet,” Osborne says.
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Asked about the lawsuits, a spokeswoman for Janssen sent a lengthy response highlighting the drug’s benefits and arguing the company has been upfront about risks.
“All anticoagulants, or blood thinners, carry the risk of bleeding, and the prescribing information for Xarelto has always warned of these risks,” the statement says.
Bosh hasn’t responded to a request for comment sent through the Miami Heat. But his own medical story hasn’t had the happiest ending. After a stirring comeback season, his clots returned, and he was put back on Xarelto. He's now officially out through the playoffs — the risk of massive bleeding over an in-game injury is just too high.
“Say you get hit in the head; that could end up being fatal or disabling,” Dr. Robert Myerburg, a physician at the University of Miami Health System, recently told the Miami Herald. “The one we worry about most is [a] bleed in the brain.”