Erin Brockovich, whose fight to clean a water supply took her story to Hollywood, has a new target: pharmaceutical giant Bayer. Its Essure sterilization device permanently prevents pregnancy without surgery via nickel-coated coils in the fallopian tubes. The coils create scar tissue that blocks off the tubes, an approach that was touted as a cheaper and safer option. But Brockovich tells the BBC it's doing a lot more than it's supposed to: "It's perforating uteruses; it's perforating colons; it's perforating the lining of the stomach," she says. Notes one woman who had a hysterectomy after what she calls three years of debilitating pain: "I have never in my life felt (so) discriminated against."
The FDA received 943 reports of problems with Essure between 2002 and 2013 (Bayer purchased the company that created the device in April 2013); some 606 of them were pain-related. A voluntary reporting system turned up 1,000 more reported issues, and a Facebook page, Essure Problems, has almost 8,600 members who discuss "E-hell." Says Brockovich, "One's too many. Eight thousand women? You cannot disregard that voice collectively. There is something wrong with the product." But Bayer says that most of the 750,000 women who have received it haven't reported problems, and it doesn't plan to take Essure off shelves. "I can tell you it's a very low percentage (of patients reporting issues)," says Bayer's US medical director, via the BBC. News10 reports the first lawsuit was filed against Bayer and Essure in Philadelphia this month. (Read more Erin Brockovich stories.)