Winnipeg Nurse Sues Major Drug Companies Over Alleged Ineffective Decongestants

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Several major drug companies are being sued by a Winnipeg nurse who alleges the companies led consumers to believe a popular ingredient is effective as an orally taken decongestant, despite research suggesting otherwise. Getty Images/iStockphoto

In a groundbreaking development, Barb Eori, a Winnipeg nurse with 33 years of experience, has launched a class-action lawsuit against several leading drug companies. The lawsuit, filed with Manitoba Court of King’s Bench on November 10, targets Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Canada, Procter & Gamble, and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare for allegedly marketing ineffective oral decongestant medications containing phenylephrine, an active ingredient deemed ineffective in several studies.

Allegations of Decades-Long Misrepresentation

Eori’s lawsuit accuses the companies of profiting for decades through the negligent misrepresentation of phenylephrine as an effective pill-form nasal decongestant. This allegation breaches the Food and Drugs Act and several consumer protection and/or business practice laws. According to CBC News, the lawsuit specifically cites nearly 50 years of this alleged misrepresentation, raising significant concerns about consumer rights and corporate accountability.

The Ineffectiveness of Phenylephrine

The crux of the lawsuit lies in the effectiveness of phenylephrine, which became the main ingredient in non-prescription decongestants in the U.S. after pseudoephedrine was restricted in 2006 due to its potential for illicit use. In September, an external advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unanimously voted that phenylephrine is ineffective as a decongestant when taken in pill form, a decision that supports earlier FDA reviews questioning the drug’s efficacy.

Nurse inspecting drug shelf

The Medications Under Scrutiny

The lawsuit names 24 over-the-counter medications containing phenylephrine, including popular cold medications like Benylin, NeoCitran, and Tylenol. These products, commonly used by consumers for nasal congestion relief, are now under the scanner for their alleged ineffectiveness.

Financial Gains at Stake

According to the lawsuit, the defendants have made billions from selling these drugs while marketing them as effective decongestants. This claim is particularly striking as Eori herself, like many other consumers, purchased these medications under the assumption that they would alleviate nasal congestion.

The Class Action Aspect

Eori seeks class-action status for her lawsuit to represent affected individuals across several Canadian provinces. The suit aims to recover damages equivalent to the amount paid for these medications, which were believed to be effective based on the companies’ marketing claims.

Corporate Responses

While Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, having demerged into Haleon in 2019, have refrained from selling the mentioned products since then, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have yet to comment on the lawsuit. Haleon also did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.

A Case of Consumer Trust and Corporate Responsibility

This lawsuit raises critical questions about the responsibility of pharmaceutical companies in ensuring the effectiveness of their products and the trust consumers place in over-the-counter medications. As the legal process unfolds, it will be a closely watched case, potentially setting a precedent for consumer rights and corporate transparency in the healthcare industry.