1. Have J&J sales representatives discontinue the incentive program for selling Levaquin and Floxin so they can tell the truth about its toxicity to doctors.
2. Add to the Levaquin label that permanent delayed reactions can lead to chronic pain and the medication must be stopped at the slightest sign of reaction.
At the end of his speech, Cahan (who was in a wheelchair) asked William Weldon, J&J CEO, to "stick with your company credo—to help people," and he was given a standing ovation. "At the reception, the chairman of their pharmaceutical group came up to me and said she wanted to help me," says Cahan. "She asked me to sign up as a research candidate and said, 'My people will get back to you; these drugs should never be used for common infections.' I wrote to the board of directors and phoned several times, but I heard nothing back from her or anyone else at J&J."
A few years ago Cahan bought more J&J shares so that he could file a Shareholder Proxy for Johnson & Johnson's next Annual Meeting for shareholders—in April 2011. "I want them to vote on forcing the company to put a warning on the Levaquin label, stating it can cause permanent tendon and nerve damage, with permanent pain, differentiating it from the type of tendon injury that can heal when brought about externally by way of a sports-type injury. Internal damage that causes this much cellular destruction is permanent, and shareholders will hopefully have a chance to force the company to be honest and upfront about this information…"
Since 1998, Cahan has suffered permanent damage from taking Floxin, Levaquin's predecessor, which he took for just 10 days. "My calves and ankles became increasingly swollen to the point where every step hurt," Cahan says. "I saw a number of doctors but no one was aware of these drug reactions, although one doctor admitted that the swelling was from Floxin and he prescribed anti-inflammatory meds. He also told me to avoid stairs.
"About a month later, both Achilles tendons ruptured—a complete fraying of the small tendons. I was on disability for about four months, at home in a cast. I returned to work on crutches but was still in so much pain that one day I broke down and cried. I didn’t want to lose my job; I didn't know what was going on with my body. I was given prednisone; I was going to physical therapy and taking lots of sick days. This went on for years. Instead of using stairs on the subway I had to take a taxi; I had to prop up my legs at meetings and during the day I had to elevate them. It was a desperate time of my life.
"The problem was that doctors didn't know how to stop the inflammatory process and pain. (Science doesn't know how this happened so there isn't a cure—so far.) Quite honestly, I became suicidal. I couldn't sleep from the pain. I got help online and found through discussion groups that many other Floxin and Levaquin users had the same problems. I met John Fratti online and then in person; like me, John also bought J&J shares and went to a shareholder meeting."
Levaquin sufferers are counting on people like Paul Cahan and John Fratti to help them take this dangerous drug off the market. And they may help others, including prescribing doctors, to only take quinolone antibiotics as a last resort.
"Once a label is changed, it opens up the statute of limitations," adds Cahan. "People who have fallen through the cracks like me could be eligible for compensation. If [the drug manufacturers] have to change the label, thousands and thousands of injured people will then be able to join a class action lawsuit."