LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - A Lehigh veteran has found himself in the middle of a controversy over a popular drug used to prevent stroke and heart attacks. He says the decision to remove him from the drug Plavix landed him in the hospital. Now he wants other veterans to know what happened to him so they can make better medical decisions.
After his first heart attack, Jim Lowry says his doctor told him he would take the drug Plavix for the rest of his life. So when the VA took him off the drug and he had a heart attack not long after, he called us to find out what is happening to other vets taking this drug.
Jim Lowry didn't have to serve in the Navy.
"I joined the service in the Vietnam era. Actually my draft number was so high, I didn't have to worry about being drafted but I wanted to serve," he told WINK.
But now he believes the Department of Veterans Affairs put his life in danger by taking him off a drug he believes is saving his life. Lowry takes the drug Plavix to prevent blood clots around a stent put in his heart.
"So when the VA said that I was going to be cutoff, I was concerned. Why? Then they came back and said everybody is being taken off of Plavix," he recalled.
Tests and pictures of Lowry's arteries came back clear and he was instructed to finish his prescription and keep taking asprin. He took his last Plavix pill September 8th, 2011. The day after Thanksgiving he woke up to something concerning.
"Thankfully, I woke up," Lowry explained. "Now I'm not the type that has severe chest pain. You know... that's not me. I'm not the type that feels like an elephant's on my chest."
Unsure what was happening he let paramedics take him to Gulf Coast Hospital.
"Within 30 minutes I'm already in the cath lab and he's already pulling out, I guess, three-and-a-half inches of 100-percent blood clot out of one of my arteries," Lowry showed us.
Furious over what happened, Lowry started doing research upon leaving the hospital. He discovered a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association by the VA cautioning doctors when taking their patients off the drug Plavix. It documents vets removed from the drug experiencing the same thing Lowry had just suffered. That's when he called WINK to investigate.
With a quick "Google" search we found message boards with dozens of vets complaining about losing their Plavix prescriptions. We called the VA for answers and they told us in a statement that patient safety is their top priority. The following the statement they provided to WINK from Michael Valentino, Chief Consultant, VA Pharmacy Benefits Management
"Within the medical community, there are differing opinions about the use of Plavix, with some suggestion that prolonged use can lead to an increased risk of adverse drug events. As a result, VA's approach to prescribing Plavix is determined by VA clinicians on a case-by-case basis, guided by published medical evidence."
The opinions the VA is talking about stem from a Food and Drug Administration warning doctors about the drug. It came after a class action lawsuit was filed in Federal court against the manufacturer of Plavix, Bristol-Myers Squibb.
"Basically it's used to prevent heart attack, blood clots, and strokes," said Jordan Chaikin, a lawyer with the firm Parker Waichman. "Unfortunately, and very recently a lot more evidence has come out suggesting and confirming that it is causing heart attacks, and strokes, and gastro-intestinal bleeding and cerebral bleeding and things of that nature."
Chaikin's firm is representing victims of Plavix. The suit suggests the drug was rushed to the market too quickly and without adequate testing.
"Certainly blood thinners are used in hospitals every day. However, when they're not adequately tested and when the consuming public and their health care providers are not adequately warned and informed of the risks associated with them, people suffer,"
But Lowry says he was on the drug for years with no side effects.
"Ten years my artery looked like that. Nice. You could see it all. Ten years. And within 90 days of them taking me off of Plavix, there was no longer-- you could no longer see the artery," he explained.
Lowry suggests the real issue stands with the cost of the drug: $200 for just a 30-day supply.
"They made a decision, I believe, based on one of two things: financial consideration or incompetence. And either way that is gross negligence on their part and somebody, somebody needs to be held accountable," he told WINK.
The VA says its decision is not financial pointing to the fact that the drug is still on its list of covered prescriptions. However we uncovered a checklist that the VA uses to determine whether a patient should stay on the drug after one year. You can check that out by clicking on this link.
We also contacted the makers of Plavix, Bristol-Myers Squibb, who sent us this statement:
"The product label for PLAVIX states that "optimal duration of PLAVIX therapy in ACS is unknown." In the clinical trials supporting the use of PLAVIX in patients with Acute Coronary Syndrome (unstable angina, non-ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, and ST-elevation myocardial infarction), patients were followed for up to one year. Physicians sometimes follow treatment guidelines developed by independent organizations, which may contain varying recommendations regarding length of therapy for PLAVIX."