Nexium, Other Heartburn Drugs, Often Inappropriately Prescribed, Study Warns

Many doctors commonly over prescribe heartburn drugs like Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid, exposing patients to potential side effects without any real medical need for use of the drugs, according to the findings of new research.

In a study published this month in the Irish Medical Journal, researchers indicate that seven out of 10 surgical patients prescribed a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to prevent gastrointestinal bleeding do not fit the proper criteria for use of the medications.

Nexium, Prilosec and other PPI drugs are commonly used by millions of Americans, and are widely believed to be safe and carry few serious side effects. However, concerns have emerged in recent years about various health risks, including gastric cancer, chronic kidney disease and other renal problems.

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In this latest study, researchers from the Wexford General Hospital in Ireland conducted a prospective analysis over a four-month period on 89 surgical inpatients, 73% of whom were on PPI therapy. According to the findings, only 30% of those patients had a documented indication that justified prescribing Nexium or a similar heartburn medication. That left 70% of those patients being given inappropriate prescriptions for a heartburn drug.

“The audit finds that while omission of PPI therapy for patients with a valid indication is a rare occurrence, inappropriate overprescribing of PPIs for conditions where no recognised benefit exists is substantial with many of our patients being over-treated,” the researchers determined. “Factors contributing to the frequency at which PPI therapy is prescribed include the common perception among prescribers that these are safe medications without a significant side effect profile, despite a growing body of evidence to the contrary; and a lack of awareness of appropriate versus inappropriate indications for PPI therapy.”

Heartburn Drug Lawsuits

In recent years, a growing number of Nexium lawsuitsPrilosec lawsuitsPrevacid lawsuits and similar claims have been filed against the PPI drug makers, alleging that consumers have not been adequately warned about the potential side effects associated with the medications, resulting in long-term use of the drug when there may have been no justified medical need.

Complaints have been filed by individuals diagnosed with gastric cancer, acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease and other injuries, indicating that they would not have continued long-term use if the risks had been disclosed.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in more than 12,300 lawsuits pending in the federal court system, the cases have been centralized as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in New Jersey, for coordinating the discovery and pretrial proceedings.

Judge Cecchi has established a “bellwether” program where a group of representative cases filed over kidney side effects will be prepared for early trial dates, which are expected to begin in late 2020. It is expected that the Court will eventually establish a separate bellwether track for gastric cancer lawsuits filed by former users of the heartburn drugs.


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