It Takes a Team: A Unique Perspective About Medical Device Safety

 

Ah, the human knee: the strongest joint and one of the most vulnerable. Ask anyone with knee pain and they’ll attest to that.

I had bad knees for most of my life. In high school I ran cross country and had my first knee surgery at age 17. In the decades that followed I had several arthroscopic surgeries on each knee with the well healed scars to show for it.

In 2017, I was prescribed propranolol off-label for PTSD. Its intended use is to lower blood pressure. My doctor assured me that there have been promising results in PTSD studies. It lowered my blood pressure, alright. To the point that I fainted and lost consciousness. In the fall, I broke my right ankle and injured my left knee. I had surgery on my ankle and then I went back to address my knee.

I was 47 at the time of the last injury and I was told by one of the surgeons at OrthoCarolina that I was bone on bone but too young for a knee replacement. Ideally, a patient should be 50+. I felt really discouraged at the thought of waiting years for relief and I resigned myself to just being in pain all the time.

I get it though: artificial joints have a limited shelf life. The older you are, the less likely the new joint will need revision or replacement. Knee replacement surgery is a BIG surgery and other options should be exhausted before considering such an invasive surgery.

Recently a friend of mine, who happens to also be a Mecklenburg County Commissioner here in Charlotte, NC posted about her recent knee replacement surgery and spoke highly of her surgeon. I turned 51 in 2021 and I wanted to revisit my intervention options. My friend recommended Dr. Benjamin Wooster at OrthoCarolina.

He did a thorough exam of my knee and reviewed notes from past surgeries and saw that I had tried the conservative treatments first. It was his medical opinion that I was now a candidate for total knee replacement.

When he asked me what I do, I explained that I am a Special Government Employee (SGE) at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). In my role, I review adverse event reports for medical devices and make recommendations to FDA and device manufacturers about labeling, clinical trials, and post market surveillance.

I am also a 16-year patient advocate. This came about in 2006, when I was inappropriately prescribed Levaquin for a suspected sinus infection. I have suffered over 30 tendon ruptures as of this writing. I call it “accidental advocacy” and I’ve learned a lot since I had to navigate a complicated medical system and do my own research about the FDA approval process for medications and medical devices. I learned that in order to have informed consent that I need to work with my doctors and ask questions to help me weigh risk versus benefit.

When Dr. Wooster asked me if I had any questions, I told him I had many and explained why I was asking.

One of my main questions was about what device he uses most often and why. He told me that for my procedure, he would use the Stryker Triathlon for a total knee replacement. Having the name of the device and who makes it allows me to do my own research about the device, whether there have been any recalls or if a Black Box warning exists. When I asked him if he would be open to discussion if I found a device that I thought was safer, he told me he was open to that discussion.

I also wanted to know what the device is made of. Something we don’t often think about are what the components are made of. Typically, medical devices are made of metal and plastic. Most often out of titanium. What the average consumer doesn’t know- and that I learned in my advocacy and my work at FDA- is that coatings can be made of something different and patients are not often informed about what the other materials are made of. I asked this question because if I had a metal allergy, I could develop issues down the road. If you have a metal allergy, always let your surgeon know.

I have many allergies (NSAIDS, aspirin, sulfa, wound dressing adhesive, latex… to name a few). Luckily, I have no known allergies to metal.

Another question I had was whether he was “married” to a particular device. He understood that what I was really asking is whether he receives any consulting money from device companies. This was something I never would have thought of, had I not been involved in patient safety. If medical device sales reps have a particularly strong relationship with the surgeon, there could be the appearance of the surgeon having a direct financial incentive to use the device. Sometimes the surgeon has been flown someplace sunny to “learn about the device” on the manufacturer’s dime. My opinion on that: These relationships could unintentionally cloud the surgeon’s judgment, meaning you are not necessarily getting a fully objective view about what device is best for you. It is public information how much a doctor receives from the pharmaceutical industry and it is your right as a patient to know what those relationships are. It is one piece of a clear picture so you can decide what is best for you. After my visit with Dr. Wooster, I looked up how much he has received and confirmed that he was honest with me that he had no financial conflict of interest.  This reassured me that whatever device he and I landed on, that it was in my best interest and not financially motivated. This also reassured me that I had a doctor who was honest with me and that builds trust.

Dr. Wooster answered all of my questions to my satisfaction and as a team, we landed on the Stryker Triathlon for my joint replacement. I had it done on December 14, 2021.

I’m five weeks out now. I won’t lie: the recovery from total knee replacement is not an easy one. Knowing what recovery could look like is also something I consider when weighing my options.

As a patient who has been harmed by the pharmaceutical industry and as an employee of the FDA CDRH, I feel it gives me a unique perspective on how patients and their doctors can work together to make sure informed consent is achieved. Ask questions. Do research. Work with your medical team so you get the best possible care.

Does my position at FDA make me worried about my implanted medical devices? Absolutely. I’ve seen what can happen if a device fails or causes adverse events for the patient. Which brings me to my next point: Just because something is FDA approved, doesn’t make it safe. Here’s some information I have on my website about the approval process of medical devices that you may find helpful. (As a side note, I also have plates and screws in my C-spine that was implanted in 2008. It is monitored every year with an xray and I am happy to report I have never had any problems with it).

If you do have an adverse reaction to a medical device, it’s important to contact your surgeon but also to report that to the FDA. We look at reporting systems and data to decide if more post market surveillance is necessary or if there needs to be a change in labeling. I’ve also sat on FDA panels where a device is recommended for recall and unfortunately, the patient is the last to know.

An emerging technology is Unique Device Identifiers (UDI). UDI’s are a unique bar code specific to materials used in your surgery. Several companies are developing ways to track the UDI’s so that if a recall is issued, a patient can be notified of that. Though adverse event reporting is voluntary, I’ve made recommendations to make it mandatory and to make it easier for anyone to report an adverse event.

Patient safety is up to all of us and it can be complicated. I find that communication is key from every perspective: the patient, their medical team, and the FDA.

It is never an easy decision to have a medical device implanted but I will say this: I had enough information from various perspectives to feel comfortable in my decision to go ahead and have an artificial joint implanted.

FDA Internal Surgical Staples and Absorbable Collagen-Based Hemostatic Device Hearings: Consumer Representative Perspective

Disclaimer: Views in this post are my own and does not represent the views of the FDA.

On May 30, 2019, the FDA Advisory Panel committee discussed and made recommendations regarding the reclassification of surgical stapler devices for internal use from Class I (general controls) to Class II (special controls).

On May 31, 2019, the committee discussed and made recommendations regarding the reclassification of certain Absorbable Hemostatic Agents from Class III to Class II (special controls).

I served as Consumer Representative for both hearings.

Internal Surgical Staples

The advisory committee met to discuss the April 2019 proposed reclassification order after the following risks to health were discovered:

  • Complications associated with device failure/malfunction. Device failures or malfunctions may result in prolonged surgical procedures, unplanned surgical interventions, and other complications such as bleeding, sepsis, fistula formation, tearing of internal tissues and organs, increased risk of cancer recurrence, and death.
  • Complications associated with use error/improper device selection and use. Use error may result from a device design that is difficult to operate and/or labeling that is difficult to understand. For example, user difficulty in firing the stapler may result in staples not being fully deployed, and misfiring may result in staples being applied to the wrong tissue. Inadequate instructions for use may result in selection of incorrectly sized staples for the target tissue. When staples are applied to the wrong tissue or when incorrectly sized staples are applied, staples are unable to properly approximate the underlying tissue, resulting in tissue damage, anastomic leakage, and bleeding. This in turn may lead to more severe complications, such as abscess, sepsis, peritonitis, hemorrhage, or death.
  • Adverse tissue reaction. If the patient-contacting materials of the device are not biocompatible, local tissue irritation and sensitization, cytotoxicity, or systemic toxicity may occur when the device contacts sterile tissue.
  • Infection. If the device is not adequately reprocessed or sterilized, the device may introduce pathogenic organisms into sterile tissue and may cause an infection in a patient.

Surgical staplers are currently classified as Class I devices. Class I are “low risk” devices. Low risk devices are not tested. These include items such as band-aids, tongue depressors, crutches, and are subject to General Controls. The proposal would reclassify surgical staplers to Class II. Class II devices are considered “moderate risk”, and subject to Special Controls.

In the proposed reclassification order, FDA proposed that the following special controls would mitigate the risks to health and provide reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness for surgical staplers for internal use:

  • Performance testing must demonstrate that the stapler, when use with compatible staples, performed as intended under anticipated conditions for use. Performance testing must include evaluation of staple formation characteristics in the maximum and minimum tissue thickness for each staple type; measurement of the worst-case deployment pressures on stapler firing force; measurement of staple line strength; confirmation of staple line integrity; and in vivo confirmation of staple line hemostasis.
  • Usability testing and labeling comprehension study must demonstrate that the clinician can correctly select and use the device, as identified in the labeling, based on reading the directions for use.
  • The elements of the device that may contact the patient must be demonstrated to be biocompatible.
  • Performance data must demonstrate the sterility of the device.
  • Validation of cleaning and sterilization instructions must demonstrate that any reusable device components can be safely and effectively reprocessed per the recommended cleaning and sterilization protocol in the labeling.
  • Performance data must support the shelf life of the device by demonstrating continued device functionality, sterility, and package integrity over the identified shelf life.

Labeling the device must include that unless data demonstrates the safety of doing so, contraindications must be identified regarding use of the device on tissues for which the risk of stapling outweighs any reasonably foreseeable benefit due to known complications, including the stapling of necrotic or ischemic tissues and tissues outside of the labeled limits of tissue thickness; unless available information indicates that the specific warnings do not apply, the labeling must provide appropriate warnings regarding how to avoid known hazrads associated with the device including:

  • Avoidance of obstructions to the creation of the staple line and the unintended stapling of other anatomic structures
  • Avoidance of clamping and unclamping of delicate tissue structures to prevent tissue damage
  • Avoidance of use of the stapler on large blood vessels, such as the aorta
  • Establishing and maintaining proximal control of the blood vessels prior to stapling
  • Appropriate measures to take if a stapler malfunction occurs while applying staples across a blood vessel, such as clamping or ligating the vessel before releasing the the stapler, while the stapler is still closed on the tissue
  • Ensuring stapler compatibility with staples

Reported adverse events are 412 deaths and 11,000+ injuries. Seventy-two percent are from linear stapler and 17% were from circular stapler. Thirty percent was during the procedure and 52 occurred post operative.

Madris Tomes, CEO of Device Events and former FDA employee, reported even higher numbers. She also presented information regarding materials in staples- most specificially nickel- which can cause allergy and autoimmune issues.

Immediately following, the Panel Chairman ruled that we as a panel cannot discuss the staples; only the staplers. My opinion, and that of other panel members, is that you cannot discuss staplers without also discussing staples but the Chairman harshly shut down the discussion. It still makes no sense to me since Medtronic, a maker of surgical staplers (and the only surgical stapler manufacturer to show up for the hearing) wanted to discuss biocompatibility and the FDA themselves proposed biocompatibility testing of the staples in the special controls.

Both Medtronic and the FDA admit that adverse events are underreported. When I attemped to ask the FDA what they plan to do to improve their reporting system and be transparent about adverse events,  I was cut off by the Chairman. This highlights the concern about whether FDA truly values the patient and consumer perspective when all other panel members were permitted to ask multiple questions, but the Consumer Representative was not.

At the end of that hearing, the advisory panel voted unanimously to up-class internal surgical staplers from Class I to Class II with special controls.

The staples themselves, unfortunately, will have to be a separate discussion due to the subject being shot down at this one. I encourage all readers to do research about surgical staples prior to sugery. It is a discussion that needs to be had and patients have the right to know what is going into their bodies.

 

Absorbable Collagen-Based Hemostatic Agents

On Day 2, the panel discussed reclassifying absorbable collagen-based hemostatic agents from the current Class III classification to Class II with Special Controls. We were instructed to not consider added biologics.

FDA identified several risks to health for absorbable collagen based hemostatic devices:

  • Uncontrolled bleeding. Failure to completely control bleeding can lead to death or severe injury.
  • Hematoma. If small amounts of bleeding persists following application of an absorbable collagen-based hemostatic device, the accumulation of blood behind the device will form a hematoma. A hematoma may press on soft tissue and cause soft tissue or nerve damage. It also has a high mortality rate.
  • Infection. An absorbable collagen-based hemostatic device may serve as a nidus for infection and abscess formation. They are manufactured from materials derived from animal sources such as collagen and gelatin and bacteria can grow on device materials.
  • Wound dehiscence. Devices near the sites of incision closures has interfered with the healing of the incision. This interference is due to mechanical interposition of the device and is not due to intrinisic interference with the wound healing process.
  • Foreign body reactions. These devices have been associated with foreign body reactions involving fluid accumulation due to encapsulation of the device. This has resulted in granuloma formation, inflammation, and edema, which may require surgical removal. Encapsulated devices can also present as an image artifact mimicking residual or recurrent tumor or abscess resulting in additional diagnostic studies and surgical procedures.
  • Immunological reactions. These devices are made of products rerived from porcine and bovine gelatin or collagen. Some patients are allergic (emphasis is mine) to these animal-derived materials.
  • Adhesion formation. These devices, in the presence of coagulated blood and tissue fluid, can often lead to scarring and adhesion formation in the weeks and months (emphasis is mine) following the surgical procedure. The procedure itself can result in additional scarring and adhesion formation.
  • Failure to be absorbed. These devices are readily degraded by emzymatic and hydrolytic action. They may be implanted in an area with low emzymatic and hydrolytic activity. In such instances, it may not be efficiently absorbed. Subsequently, it may become incapsulated and exert pressure or create a chronic granulomatus inflammatory reaction on surrounding soft tissue to cause necrosis or injury, requiring surgical intervention.
  • Interference with Methylmethacrylate Adhesives. Some types of these devices have been reported to reduce the strength of methylmethacrylate adhesives used to fixate orthopedic prosthetic devices to bone.
  • Aspiration into Blood Salvage System Filters. Fragments of these devices may pass through blood salvage system filters and occlude the systems or patient’s vasculature.
  • Embolization. These devices used near moderate to large blood vessels may result in embolization of the blood vessel (which has a high mortality rate).Embolization has been associated with severe adverse effects, including fever, duodenal and pancreatic infarc, embolization of lower extremity vessels, pulmonary embolization, splenic abscess, necrosis, asterixis, and death.
  • Paralysis/Nerve Damage/ Tissue Necrosis.These devices absorb fluids and swell to varying degrees, up to 40 times their weight in volume. The device swelling can encroach on surrounding nervous tissue to cause paralysis or tissue necrosis.
  • Disease Transmission. These devices are composed of animal-derived collagen-based materials, which may carry a risk of transmitting infectious disease when improperly collected, stored, or manufactured.
  • Adverse Tissue Reaction. These devices may result in local or systemic adverse tissue reaction due to material composition or interaction of the material with the body.
  • Toxicity. These devices may contain materials or ingredients that result in local or systemic toxicity.

FDA claims that the following Special Controls would mitigate the risks to health and provide reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness for absorbable collagen-based hemostatic devices.

  • Material source information must be sufficient to demonstrate that the likelihood of the risk that the device is transmitting infectious diseases is minimized.
  • Material processing information must detail all reagents used in the manufactur of the device, and residual amounts must be quantified.
  • For crosslinked devices, the density of crosslinks must be provided.
  • Device related particulates must be characterized.
  • Collagen characterization information, including elemental analysis and decellularization efficiency determination, must demonstrate the identity, purity, and quality of the collagen.

FDA was unable to provide any evidence or science in the Executive Summary- or when pressed by the panel- on why they proposed down-classing absorbable collagen-based hemostatic agents from Class III High Risk classification, down to Class II with Special Controls. Class III devices are considered “life sustaining” or “life saving” and have the highest amount of FDA oversight. The panel was not provided any evidence as to their reasoning and when the panel questioned this, we were told that information is “confidential”. FDA put us in a bad position because we can’t make a recommendation on something we were not shown and essentially, FDA was asking us to just take their word for it. The discussion got heated about that. We as a panel cannot- and neither should the FDA- use anecdotal evidence over scientific evidence. The only evidence provided to us were two premarket approvals which stated that there is no difference between the device and the control. It should also be noted that absorbable hemostatic agents have remained in Class III for 42 years.

FDA also stumbled on their answers to panel questions and were visibly uncomfortable that they couldn’t.

Absorbable collagen-based hemostatic devices come in powder, paste, sheets, and sponges and are made from porcine or bovine byproducts. This raised a concern from another panel member about those who cannot consume those products due to religious or cultural reasons, as well as for diabetics who often switch from porcine to bovine insulin (and vice versa). It was suggested by the panel member to include the ingredients on the labeling as part of the Special Controls.

Because FDA provided no evidence and no reasoning for down-classing the devices, we adjourned 4 1/2 hours earlier than planned. Most of the morning was spent discussing the lack of evidence and that we are put in a bad position by making a decision on so little information.

Points we could unanimously agree  upon is:

  1. Whether FDA should consider a validated bleeding scale to be used to demonstrate effectiveness of hemostasis. We felt that there needs to be some objectivity and standardization and we unanimously voted yes.
  2. Whether the panel agreed with FDA that absorbable collagen-based devices are not life supporting or life sustaining. We unanimously voted no– that the panel disagrees with FDA on that question.

That said, in a surprising vote about whether to keep these devices at Class III (life saving or life sustaining) or whether to down-class them to Class II following a heated discussion, I was the only panel member to vote no on down-classifying the devices and remaining firm that these devices should remain Class III.  The patient representative abstained from the vote stating that he will deflect to “the experts on this”. All other panel members voted to down-class to Class II. I was shocked considering that we unanimously agreed that these device are, in fact, life saving and life sustaining, that the vote was markedly different than the discussions leading up to it.

In a nutshell, the rest of the panel decided to just take the word of the FDA that they’ll do the right thing with the information that was not presented to us by reason that it’s “confidential” or that FDA “just didn’t think to bring that information and in hindsight, should have”

I’m extremely uncomfortable with that.

 

 

 

FDA Breast Implant hearing- A Consumer Representative perspective

Disclaimer: Views in this post are my own and does not represent the views of the FDA.

On March 25 and 26, the Food and Drug Administration held a hearing regarding the benefits vs. risks of breast implants indicated for breast augmentation and reconstruction. The Advisory Panel was tasked with making recommendations regarding:

  • Breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL)
  • Systemic symptoms reported in patients receiving breast implants
  • The use of registries for breast implant surveillance
  • MRI screening for silent rupture of silicone gel filled breast implants
  • The use of surgical mesh in breast procedures such as breast reconstruction and mastopexy
  • The use of real-world data and patient perspectives in regulatory decision-making
  • Best practices for informed consent discussions between patients and clinicians.

 

As a Special Government Employee (SGE) for the FDA, I served as Consumer Representative for this hearing. This blog post is my perspective as the Consumer Representative on the panel.

Advisory panels typically have 20 members, made up of FDA staff, physicians, an industry representative, a consumer representative, and a patient representative. My role as Consumer Representative at the FDA is to analyze scientific data, represent the best interests of consumers, and make recommendations to the FDA about changes that should be implemented.

The list of speakers has 81 names on it. Over 2 days, it was 4 hours of testimony from breast implant victims, survivors, surgeons, and public health organizations. That so many people traveled to Silver Spring, Maryland for this hearing on their own dime to speak about the harm of breast implants is very telling.

At the two-day hearing, there were presentations from patients, the FDA, and device makers Allergan, Mentor, Sientra, and Ideal. As Consumer Representative, I can ask questions to the FDA and to the device makers. The panel Chairman did not call on me or the Patient Representative when we wanted to ask questions. During the break, we asked to speak with him privately and told him it is not acceptable to ignore the representatives if we had questions or comments. He apologized and did call on us when we raised our hands after that.

One of the issues I raised after analyzing the data on textured implants causing lymphoma was that textured implants should be removed from the market. Over 30 other countries have removed them from the market due to the risks, yet the United States has not taken any such action. Some panel members took issue with my comment about removing it from the market, stating that “we should not be making knee jerk decisions like that”. I disagree. The science is there. The link between textured implants and Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) is obvious. There’s nothing “knee jerk” about it.

Let me clear about something: BIA-ALCL is NOT breast cancer. It is a man-made cancer specific to textured gel breast implants. So women who survive breast cancer and opts for breast reconstruction is potentially signing up for yet another cancer. Let that sink in.

BIA-ALCL is often called “rare”. It’s not rare. It’s that it isn’t clearly understood, the surveys used to track data are long, patients are suddenly dropped from studies, and patients are often not informed properly.

The panel also discussed adverse event registries. While I think they’re a good idea, there are too many. It makes it confusing, there are different parameters for each one, and they are exclusionary. Current registries contain information for new surgeries and re-operations. That excludes a large population of women who are in limbo because they can’t afford explants, and if information is excluded, you’re not getting accurate data. They are based on voluntary reporting, and not on medical records. In addition, Breast Implant Illness (BII) is not included in registries so the data is incomplete. My recommendation to the panel was to have a centralized registry that anyone can have access to. Current registries do not make data available to patients. It does a disservice to patients when information that should be transparent is withheld; otherwise, there is no informed consent. I also recommended that registries include Breast Implant Illness. I also feel that registries should be linked with electronic health records. The current system is based on diagnosis, not on the complete picture of symptoms.

The device makers claim that they provide information and checklists. However, patients are not getting that information – a point made by almost all of the speakers. When the issue was raised during panel deliberations, Mentor later provided a booklet with two pages bookmarked. Not everyone on the panel got the booklets so some of us had to share. This made me uneasy so I snapped photos of the booklet and the bookmarked pages. My instincts were right. I got to look at it but the Industry Representative held on to it. It’s a 70+ page booklet with a checklist that is insufficient. 70+ pages is a lot to read, information is buried, and most concerning is the fact that patients never see it. The booklets are given to physicians, not patients.

After seeing this, I made the recommendation to the FDA that the FDA, device makers, and patients have an equal seat at the table to devise a checklist that is succinct, clear, transparent, and to make it mandatory that patients and the physician sign off on each checklist point. These materials also need to be made available at a consultation prior to surgery, not on the way to the operating room. I asked a Mentor representative for her business card after she said she was willing to have such a meeting. If they don’t keep to their word, they need to be held accountable, and the FDA needs to be held accountable if they don’t implement this recommendation. If patient safety is truly the priority they say it is, true transparency and equal seating at the table needs to happen.

The FDA has hidden hundreds of thousands of incident reports regarding breast implants. An investigation by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that the FDA has allowed device manufacturers to bury adverse event reports using a program called “alternative summary reporting”.

Two days later, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced that the FDA will release old data, stating that full disclosure is a priority.

Shortly before the hearing, the FDA sent warning letters to Mentor and Sientra- breast implant manufacturers stating non compliance with post market surveillance. My question is this: After the FDA sends warning letters, have they ever recalled a device? To date, the answer is a resounding no. That needs to change.

Also of note, ingredient lists for breast implants are not made public. Think about that. The food you eat, the beverages you drink, the supplements you take… they all have ingredient lists. A consumer can decide whether they want to consume those products because the ingredients are available. This is not the case with medical devices.

Breast implants are causing autoimmune and other breast implant illness symptoms. If a consumer knew what was in the implant, you add another layer of informed consent. These implants contain heavy metals,  neurotoxins, carcinogens, and other harmful ingredients. Wouldn’t you want to know that? In addition, knowing what is in the implants can help during the screening process (which is also lacking).

Speaking of screening…

There is none prior to implant. Post-implant surveillance is lacking.

The panel deliberated on the use of MRI screening 3 years after implant and every 2 years after that. MRIs are expensive and not covered by insurance.

The patients who suffer with Breast Implant Illness all stated that their symptoms disappeared after explant. Explant surgeries are not covered by insurance. By mandating pathology after implants, insurance would cover it. The FDA wants to eliminate MRIs as post-implant surveillance because of non compliance from patients. If MRIs were covered by insurance and were not so expensive, there would be more compliance.

Alternatives were discussed during the panel deliberations. One was mammograms. I had to make sure I heard that correctly because I couldn’t believe this was even being suggested.

If you’re a woman who has had a mammogram, you know how it feels to have them. Now imagine having breast implants which are prone to rupture. Squishing breasts in that torturous contraption only puts women at more risk of rupture. Mammograms to test for ruptures are the very thing that could rupture them. And these were suggested by physicians. I’m no doctor but it’s one of the most ridiculous suggestions I’ve ever heard.

Ultrasounds could be a feasible option, but again, if MRIs were covered, we wouldn’t really need to have that conversation.

Deliberations also brought up the use of surgical mesh for implant surgery. In February 2019, the FDA held a hearing on the use of mesh, at which dozens of patients came forward with their stories of harm. Mesh for breast implant surgery is mostly for aesthetic purposes, and patients are not told that surgical mesh will be used during their surgery. Considering how harmful surgical mesh is, you’re adding insult to injury since both mesh and breast implants are causing enormous harm.

Mesh and breast implants are classified as a Class III medical devices. Class III are considered high risk devices. They must be life-saving or life-sustaining and include devices such as artificial heart pacemakers.  Any device in this category requires only one clinical trial as part of the pre-market approval process. The testing must provide evidence that the device is reasonably safe and effective. Mesh and breast implants should not be Class III devices, and need to be reclassified as Class II. And as a side note, if you are harmed by a Class III device, you cannot hold the manufacturer accountable.

The FDA has the authority and responsibility to protect patients. I call on them to take patient testimony to heart and implement the patient safety recommendations that I, and others on the panel, brought up.

The women who have implants deserve better.

To watch the hearing:

Day 1: March 25, 2019

Day 2: March 26, 2019

 

For more information about how screwed up the system is for medical implants, watch The Bleeding Edge on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bleeding Edge Documentary on Netflix

I met The Bleeding Edge documentary film makers Kirby Dick and Amy Herdy in February 2016 in Washington, DC. They were making a film about medical harm.

Their film The Bleeding Edge debuted today, July 27, 2018 on Netflix. It exposes the horrors of the medical device industry. Click on the image below to watch it.

(I make a brief cameo in the film)

I’ve been a patient advocate since approximately 2012. This happened accidentally because I was harmed in 2006 by Cipro and Levaquin, both fluoroquinolone antibiotics made by Bayer and Johnson & Johnson respectively. In the last twelve years I’ve had over two dozen surgeries to repair the damage caused by a medication that was supposed to help me. Antibiotics that carry extreme risks, that the risks outweigh the benefits, and that I was never warned about. The information regarding risks were hidden until advocates across the globe came forward to expose them, including myself.

It was advocacy that led to several changes in the warning labels. We were on  mission to hold Bayer and Johnson & Johnson, as well as the FDA, accountable. Although they still maintain that these drugs are safe and effective and they stand by their products, they did make changes because it became clear that their own data proved what advocates knew all along, and they could not deny the risks any longer.

The more I got involved in advocacy, I was invited to workshops and conferences. There I met advocates from the medical device side of advocacy. I saw that it isn’t just a flawed system in the approval and marketing of pharmaceutical drugs, it was also flawed in the approval and use of medical devices. It is an entire system that is designed to fail.

One workshop that I attended was in Washington, DC where I attended a training session led by the National Center for Health Research. This workshop changed the trajectory of my advocacy. I learned about the approval process, how drug companies use smoke and mirrors to market drug commercials, and how loopholes are created that make it hard to navigate. While there, I had the honor of being on a panel to discuss how advocacy leads to changes at the FDA. On that same panel is Angela Desa, who is featured in The Bleeding Edge documentary.

 

The training proved to be invaluable. Not only did I receive training that helps me in my job and in my advocacy, but I met medical device advocates who breathed new life into my own advocacy. Breast implant awareness advocates, mesh injury awareness advocates, and the incomparable E-sisters who raise awareness about the Essure medical devices, and who fight to create legislation to make medical devices safer.

Meeting them solidified my decision to advocate for all patients harmed by pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices. It gave me a complete picture about the flawed system as a whole and I felt compelled to be part of the solution by being on the policy end.

In 2016, I became a Special Government Employee (SGE) for the Center for Devices and Radiologic Health (CDRH) at the Food and Drug Administration.

I was chosen for two device panels, but under CDRH policy, I can be borrowed and called to serve on any panel under the CDRH umbrella.

Recently, I served as Consumer Representative on an advisory panel to discuss the safety and effectiveness of a cardiac device, and the risk vs benefit profile. My job is to represent consumers and raise concerns about how the particular device can affect patients. I analyze data that I must keep confidential, I ask questions to the device makers and to FDA investigators, listen to testimony from the public hearing portion of the hearing, and express input from a patient safety perspective. At the end of the hearing, before the panel vote, I can sum up what I brought up during deliberations and make recommendations to the FDA and device makers on how to incorportate patient safety. The panel then votes on whether to advise on further steps. In this case, some of the advisory committee recommendations made me happy because the risks did prove to be alarming and steps will be taken to make vital changes. Other parts infuriated me, such as when it was agreed by the majority of the panel that it should be left up to surgeon discretion as to whether the device should be used. With the exception of me, the Patient Representative and the Industry Representative, the voting panel was made up of all surgeons who use the device.

That all said, I watched the Bleeding Edge today and as a harmed patient, a patient advocate, and an SGE with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I have some thoughts on it.

While I know a lot about the approval process of medical devices, and I know people harmed by the devices, the film is shocking. The depth of profits over patients is stunning. And the collective voices of the patients who bravely told their story is inspiring. This film is necessary and helps viewers understand how it came to be that this is allowed to happen, and why the voice of harmed patients and advocates can be a powerful force for change.

The film should serve as a wake-up call to everyone: patients, physicians, device manufacturers, and the FDA.

As an advocate, I’ve experienced push back by the industry, and it can be overwhelming. It can make you feel crazy because no one is listening to you, or they are dismissing your symptoms and pain calling it “rare” or “just part of the illness, not the device/medicine”. You become conditioned to think it’s all in your head. The thing is, can it be all in your head when so many people are coming forward with horrific stories of harm? That’s hard to ignore when people around the world are experiencing harm that they were never told about, and in the name of so-called “innovation”. Even harder when all the adverse events that have been reported are only 4 to 5 % of the total amount so the rest of the 95 to 96% are people suffering in silence. Adverse events are “voluntary reporting” by patients. Doctors who become aware of the adverse events are not required to report it. Only industry is required. Except that there is no incentive to do so when they have a stake in its usage and sales. When patients do report adverse events, they are dismissed with phrases like ” You’re not a doctor so what do you know?”. Actually harmed patients know a lot more than anyone. Just saying.

I was at Johnson & Johnson a few years ago to talk about my story and how I am now disabled from Levaquin. Before I was even allowed up to the microphone, I had to be approved by the “mic keepers”. I was given 3 minutes to speak to CEO Alex Gorsky and the shareholders in attendance.

My microphone was cut off and Mr. Gorsky went into a monologue about how safe Levaquin is and how the company stands by their product. How Johnson and Johnson stands by their Credo, which, honestly, is a crock of sh**.

As someone who held a ticket to attend, My. Mike. Was. Cut. Off. And I was not quiet about that.

The year after, I met with Johnson & Johnson for the second time, where again, Alex Gorsky was in attendance. This time, I was thrown out by security. Twice. My dad was with me and he still thinks it’s equal parts hilarious and ridiculous. And it’s all on tape. These meetings are recorded. I wasn’t quiet about that either.

I’ve also been on both sides of the FDA process. I’ve testified at hearings as a harmed patient, and I’ve also sat on advisory panel meetings.

My advocacy and my work at the FDA gives me a complete picture of the approval process, and how Black Box warnings work. The combination of all of that experience came together when I watched the Bleeding Edge documentary.

The things that pharmaceutical drug and device companies get away with should be criminal. But it’s not. The film delves into how the exception became the rule and how loopholes were created by industry, the FDA, and Congress that allows this level of harm come to patients.

Did you know that if a device is recalled because it’s dangerous, that a device company can still get their version of that risky device approved because of the 501K pathway created by Congress? Ninety eight percent of devices are approved based on the 510K process, and based on previously recalled devices that are proven risky. Only in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and regulatory agency industries can this be allowed to happen.

Did you know that most physicians are not aware of the risks involved in the device they are implanting? They figure that the FDA takes care of that part of it. It does not.

Did you know that a representative from the device company is present during your surgery to implant the device and that you don’t have to be told that an unqualified, non medical professional salesman is watching your surgery? I have several medical devices implanted as a result of the pharmaceutical harm I’ve suffered over 12 years. Not once was I told about this. Or what the devices are made of. Or that it was untested. Or that I could have an allergy to the materials the device is made of.

I wasn’t told anything when I was going through medical harm. But thanks to the Bleeding Edge documentary, you can be.

It is vital- even life saving- to have ALL the information so that you can make an INFORMED decision about your health.

Thank you to Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Amy Herdy, for exposing the dangers of medical devices and to the brave advocates who shared their stories. Y’all saved lives and you are my personal heroes.

 

 

FDA fails to finalize proposed rule about generic medications- Still

On March 27, 2015 – three years ago today – I testified at the Food and Drug Administration about proposed labeling changes on generic medications.

Finalizing this rule would open the door for patients who are harmed by generic medication the right to sue the generic drug manufacturer. This is because of a 2011 Supreme Court decision called Pliva v. Mensing.

Gladys Mensing and Julie Demahy were prescribed Reglan in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Instead of receiving Reglan, they were given its generic version metoclopramide.

They both developed tardive dyskinesia, a serious, non-reversable neurological disorder. As evidence mounted, the drug’s warning label was altered in 1985, 2004, and 2009. The 2009 label instructed that use of the drug beyond 12 weeks “be avoided in all but rare cases.”

Mensing and Demahy sued the manufacturers of the generic drugs they had taken. They alleged that the manufacturers were liable under state tort law for failing to provide adequate warnings. The manufacturers pleaded preemption as an affirmative defense, contending that because federal law required them to use the same label as Reglan, it was impossible to comply with a state-law duty requiring a different label.

The generic manufacturers moved to dismiss on implied pre-emption grounds arguing that:

1) FDA regulations require the warnings on generic pharmaceuticals to be the same as those of the brand-name product.

 2) They had no ability to unilaterally add or strengthen warnings without FDA approval. As a result, the manufacturers argued that plaintiffs’ failure to warn claims were pre-empted because it was impossible for them to unilaterally add the plaintiffs’ proposed warnings without violating FDA regulations.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision represents a landmark victory for generic drug makers on the issue of federal pre-emption. By a 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court held that state law failure to warn claims against generic pharmaceutical manufacturers are impliedly pre-empted by federal law. In reaching this decision, the court accepted the Food and Drug Administration’s interpretation of its own regulations that generic manufacturers are legally prohibited from unilaterally changing or strengthening their product labeling without prior FDA approval. This deference to the FDA paved the way for the court’s holding. The court held that because it was impossible for a generic manufacturer to unilaterally add or strengthen warnings without violating FDA regulations, all state law failure to warn claims are pre-empted.

A generic drug is a medication created to be the same as an existing approved brand-name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, and performance characteristics. And they are significantly less expensive than its brand name counterpart.

Eighty percent of medications dispensed are generic. And if you are harmed by a generic medication, you cannot sue the manufacturer. There is no justice for those patients.

The Food and Drug Administration proposed a rule to change warning labels, which would open the door to those patients to receive justice.

I testifed at the FDA to urge them to finalize that proposed rule.

 

Those injured by generic drugs have suffered the same injuries and disabilities as those who took brand name medications and justice has been denied because of the current generic drug safety loophole.

The FDA has the power and responsibility to ensure patients are warned and to promote safety by making sure generic drug makers are accountable for their products just as brand name-drug makers are. By not finalizing the proposed rule, it is only adding injury to injury and leaving patients at risk.

An FDA decision has been postponed several times.

It has been three years and the FDA continues to fail to finalize the proposed rule.

Three. Years.