birthcontrolpillAt least 23 Canadians have died since 2007 as a result of using drug company Bayer’s Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills. Most of the women, according to Health Canada documents, died suddenly due to blood clots, the youngest being 14 years old. More than half of the 23 fatalities were women under 26 years old.

One of the victims, 18-year-old Miranda Scott, collapsed and died three years ago from a clot in the lung while on an elliptical machine at the Okanagan gym at the University of British Columbia after using Yasmin. Her mother, Chip McClaughly, is taking part in a class-action lawsuit against Bayer.

Birth control pills are known to increase the risk of developing blood clots along the lining of blood vessels. These could be fatal if they break off and block an artery supplying a major organ such as the lungs, heart, or brain.

Birth control pills work by releasing estrogen and progestin mimicking female hormones to stop ovulation. They may also thicken the cervical mucus to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg and alter the uterine lining so that a fertilized egg cannot implant itself. They do not protect the user from sexually transmitted diseases.

Yaz and Yasmin are fourth-generation birth control pills that contain a type of progestin called drospirenone, in addition to estrogen. It is thought that second-, third- , and fourth-generation birth control is safer than first-generation pills, which were associated with a higher risk of developing blood clots because they contained a higher dose of estrogen. In recent years, new birth control pills were developed to counteract the negative side-effects of the earlier pills.

Evidence indicates, however, that third- and fourth-generation birth control pills pose significant risks. Between 2007 and 2013, 600 adverse reactions to Yaz or Yasmin were reported by doctors and pharmacists in Canada. In 2011, Health Canada issued an advisory about drospirenone-containing Yaz and Yasmin, finding that women are 1.5 to three times likelier to develop blood clots than with older birth control pills. Compared to an estimated 1 in 10,000 women getting blood clots with the older birth control pills, 1.5 to three in 10,000 Yaz or Yasmin users will develop clotting. Bayer has set aside over $1 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits in the United States against Yaz and Yasmin. A study by France’s health and drug safety agency, the ANSM, found that 14 of the 20 annual deaths related to birth control pills were caused by third- and fourth-generation pills.

There are two class-action lawsuits underway in Canada. On March 10, 2010, Siskinds LLP filed a claim for Ontario women alleging that Yaz and Yasmin pose a significant risk of blood clotting and gall bladder disease and that Bayer did not adequately warn patients and doctors about the dangerous side effects. On April 15, 2013, the suit was certified by Justice D.S. Crane of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.  Bayer filed a motion to appeal the certification, which will be heard in court on Sept. 4.

Lawyer Tony Merchant, who represents 1,000 women outside Ontario (including McClaughty), is attempting to certify another class-action lawsuit against Bayer this autumn. “There are about 30 or 40 deaths that we think are known, but that is usually just the tip of the iceberg because all sorts of people will have died,” Merchant told CBC News. Their families “don’t know anything about the litigation, they don’t know anything about the problem.”