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'I Thought I Was Dying': A Common Synthetic Antibiotic Can Cause Permanent Side Effects

Ten years after taking the medication, Bobby Grozier suffers from brain damage and he's lost more than $3 million in medical costs and income.

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Fratti also mentioned the gifts that were exchanged between sales representatives and doctors. He gave away $100 gift certificates, free dinners and golf trips. Additionally, a New York Times article from June 2004 cited doctors receiving checks for $10,000 in exchange for prescribing drugs from certain companies. Conflicts within the sales industry are also documented in Gwen Olsen’s book, Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher.

Doctors’ offices are not the only place where money presents a conflict of interest, according to Plum. He said drug companies provide a large portion of the operating expenses for the FDA in order to have their drugs evaluated.

Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, was quoted in Ivanhoe Medical Breakthroughs as saying user fees, which drug companies pay to the FDA to approve their products, are a key problem in the process of approving drugs. User fees paid for more than half the drug reviews in 2009 and totaled more than $600 million of the FDA’s budget.

Fratti has attempted to increase awareness within drug companies, going as far as buying stock in Johnson & Johnson and attending a shareholder convention. During the Q&A session, Fratti spoke to the CEO, board of directors and shareholders, telling them what had happened to him as well as other people who had been injured by Levaquin and asking that a warning be put on the package or the leaflet given out by pharmacists. He also requested that further medical research be done by Johnson & Johnson to help people who have been injured and disabled to regain their health.

Fratti is not the first victim of poisoning to buy stock and speak at the convention. Another man who had been poisoned more than 10 years ago also spoke and was given a standing ovation by the shareholders.

“Many of us have contacted Johnson & Johnson and they’re well aware of this, but despite this, they continue to aggressively promote Levaquin,” Fratti said.

The effects of fluoroquinolone poisoning can be short-term, lasting about two years, or lifelong. Grozier and Fratti are both on disability, while Plumb has been able to return to work, but still suffers from the effects of the poisoning.

Fluoroquinolone poisoning has caused financial devastation for most of the patients. Grozier knows many other people who have suffered from poisoning and have depleted their savings, lost their homes and are no longer covered by health insurance.

The emotional impact is also difficult to endure. For many patients, there is no external physical evidence of their illness and many people are skeptical, refusing to believe that antibiotics can poison people.

Fratti’s experience has been reported in several media outlets, including ABC news, Harrisburg Patriot News and the documentary Certain Adverse Events. Grozier has also attempted to reach out to the media, sending a packet of information about his experience to numerous media outlets, including Dateline, Oprah, 60 Minutes, Montel Williams and 20/20. His attempts did not result in any coverage.

The knowledge that drug companies possess and the lack of action resulting from this knowledge can be credited to the lack of accountability in the drug corporations, Fratti said. The lawsuits are considered the cost of doing business, because paying a fine is less costly than removing the drug from the market.

“There’s no criminal liability for executives,” Fratti said. “They’re using shareholder’s money to pay for fines. Executives are not going to jail. They’re not facing any personal liability…Personal responsibility and accountability needs to take place. What’s happening here with these injuries is a cost of doing business. Because they’re incorporated, the executives have limited liability. Nothing really happens to them as an individual. The company may be fined, but in terms of anything happening to the key executives individually, they’re pretty much immune from any fine or jail term.”