TORONTO -- The popular birth-control pills Yaz and Yasmin have been linked to the deaths of at least 23 Canadian women --the youngest just age 14, Health Canada documents say.
The deaths are among about 600 adverse reactions reported among women taking the contraceptives between 2007 and Feb. 28 of this year, Health Canada confirmed Tuesday.
Doctors and pharmacists who submitted the reports to the Canada Vigilance Program said Yaz and Yasmin are suspected in the 23 deaths. The reports say most of the women died suddenly after developing blood clots, a known risk with the pills.
Since 2007, Health Canada said the program has received reports of adverse reactions among 333 women taking Yasmin and 267 women prescribed Yaz.
Among those cases were 15 deaths linked to Yasmin and eight to Yaz. More than half of the women who died were under age 26, with the youngest being a 14-year-old girl. Most deaths reportedly occurred soon after the women starting taking the drugs.
Yaz and Yasmin are both made by Bayer and are often characterized as "newer-generation" birth-control pills. The contraceptives are produced using drospirenone, a synthetic progestin exclusively produced by Bayer.
In 2011, Health Canada issued a warning about the Bayer products, saying that although the risk of blood clots is rare, it is still 11/2 to three times higher with the drospirenone-containing pills than with some other birth-control products.
An estimated one in 10,000 women on older-generation contraceptives will develop blood clots; with Yaz and Yasmin, that risk is estimated at three in 10,000.
While Yaz and Yasmin are suspected in the 23 deaths, Health Canada said reports of adverse reactions cannot be interpreted as showing cause and effect.
"Often it is not possible to determine if an adverse reaction (AR) reported to Health Canada is a result of using a specific health product," the department said by email. "Other factors contributing to the AR could be a person's health conditions or other health products they are using at the same time."
Bayer says the pills are safe and effective when used as directed.
There are a number of lawsuits either settled or pending against Bayer over the pills, both in the U.S. and Canada.
The first class-action suit against Bayer certified in Canada is being led by lawyer Matthew Baer. He and his law firm, Siskinds, are representing 13 families of women who they say died while taking Yaz or Yasmin, as well as hundreds of other Ontario women who say they suffered adverse reactions while on the pills.
Baer said his law firm has been contacted by more than 1,300 people inquiring about inclusion in the lawsuit.
The class-action suit alleges the contraceptives increase the risk of serious side-effects, including blood clots. The suit further alleges that women died or were injured by Yaz and Yasmin.
One of the plaintiffs in the class-action is Stephanie Kerr of Tillsonburg, Ont., who said she took Yasmin for a month at about age 16 and developed blood clots in her lungs.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Kerr recalled she had been out running and suddenly was severely short of breath.
"I almost collapsed. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't take a full breath at all and I kind of was starting to see spots. I knew I was going to go down pretty soon," she said. "I was really scared."
Kerr managed to get home and to the hospital, where doctors determined her blood was severely thickened and scans showed the bottoms of her lungs were full of clots.
She had to take blood-thinning drugs for six months, during which time she missed school. Her lungs were too weak to allow her to continue competitive dancing, which she was eventually forced to give up.
"It was painful for a long time. I couldn't walk very far without having to sit and take breaths," said Kerr, 20, who now teaches yoga.
Bayer has already paid about $1.2 billion to settle, without admission of liability, thousands of lawsuits related to the products in the United States, but the company said Tuesday it stands by its products.
-- The Canadian Press