Venlafaxine is an antidepressant brought to market in the early 1990’s by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals) and is more commonly known by its brand name, Effexor or Effexor XR. Effexor’s primary use in the medical field is to treat generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and severe depression.

The drug Effexor belongs to a class of drugs known as SNRI’s (Serotonin-Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). While SNRI’s can provide much relief to people who suffer from anxiety or depression, the side effects of such drugs can sometimes be very dangerous and can include birth defects (if the mother was taking Effexor during her pregnancy or breastfeeding), and even increased the risk of suicide.

Although these risks are common with many SNRI’s, Effexor has been the subject of much scrutiny and, in recent years, many lawsuits. The lawsuits and scrutiny stem from the fact that Effexor was originally marketed towards pregnant women as being safe for use during pregnancy. Unfortunately, Effexor’s marketing as “safe during pregnancy” was continued despite the fact that tests conducted by Wyeth on animals showed the possibility of birth defects if the drug was ingested during pregnancy.

The very first Effexor lawsuits were filed in 2012, and at least 3 of the Effexor lawsuits filed that year alleged that Effexor was the primary cause of their children’s birth defects or death. These first lawsuits (like the many lawsuits after) all shared a common thread in that all 3 alleged that their children were born with heart defects as a result of taking Effexor during pregnancy.

Effexor and Effexor XR, as well as many doctors, now recommend discussing the potential side effects of the drugs with a physician before using them if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Current state of litigation

Most of the claims by the plaintiffs against Pfizer are alleging that children were born with birth defects caused by taking Effexor during pregnancy. Because most of the Effexor cases had common questions of fact, the cases ended up being moved to multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under presiding federal Judge Cynthia Rufe for convenience, and to promote efficiency in the trials.

At the time when the MDL order was entered in 2013, there were 68 cases alleging that the ingestion of Effexor during pregnancy caused birth defects in the plaintiffs’ children. Judge Cynthia Rufe entered a case management order on November 18, 2014, which mapped out how 14 of the pending cases would be picked to go through an initial discovery process, and also allowed the plaintiffs and defendants to each pick 7 of the pending lawsuits to go forward to trial.

However, as of January 28, 2015, the attorneys for the plaintiffs moved to dismiss 26 of the 68 pending lawsuits. Thus far, Judge Rufe has dismissed 8 of the 26 lawsuits, with the possibility of more being dismissed at a later time. Under Judge Rufe’s orders, both plaintiffs and defendants will be able to strike one case of the 14 selected under the 2014 case management order by November 30, 2015, and by December 2015, each side will be allowed to select 2 cases to go to the trial pool and to go through a more in-depth discovery process. Judge Cynthia Rufe will then make the final decision on which cases go to trial. Currently, the estimated date for the first trial is September 2016, and more lawsuits against Pfizer are predicted.