A popular brand of surgical mesh used to repair hernias has been found to cause dangerous problems in patients that have it implanted in their bodies. Ring of Fire’s Mike Papantonio and Farron Cousins discuss this.

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Mike Papantonio: A popular brand of surgical mesh used to repair hernias has been found to cause dangerous problems in patients that have it implanted in their bodies. You know what’s so crazy about this story? This has been going on for so long. Johnson and Johnson, for example, knew that the material that was being used in mesh hernia material would cause a whole host of problems. First of all, it would migrate through the body, it would break away, and these pieces of mesh would migrate through the body.

Second of all, it would not allow the site to even heal. The infections are overwhelming. The long-term problems and pain are overwhelming. The reason they know this is because four other companies had been making the same thing, and four other companies had been sued for the same thing, and that took place years ago. But Johnson and Johnson, just like Johnson and Johnson always does, says well, you know, we’re going to do it anyways.

It’s just like, you know, the baby powder case. A friend of mine just hit them for $4 billion in 22 cases of cancer. Johnson and Johnson always focuses on the bottom line, always to the detriment of consumers. Take it from here. I’ve actually, full dis colure, I’ve handled these cases. I know a lot about them. I know why the material is causing such danger, but go ahead and talk about that.

Farron Cousins: Johnson and Johnson, through their little subsidiary, Ethicon, developed these polypropylene meshes, which as you said, other people had already had on the market. Johnson and Johnson wanted in on it because they saw that, hey, everybody else is making a ton of money, we need to develop a polypropylene mesh. Even though we know they’re getting sued, don’t worry, we’re going to make more money than they’ll take from us in the courts.

So, they make it, and sure enough it causes migration. It causes adhesion, where it either … basically becomes a part of the organ, or it makes organs fuse together if they’re touching with this mesh. It causes massive infections and horrid inflammation, because of the chemicals in this polypropylene actually hinder the healing process. It makes it harder for the hernia to heal.

And of course, doctors, anytime something like this comes out, unfortunately, these drug reps go out, they say, “Hey, we know you’ve been using these old meshes, that have been perfectly fine, but here’s something new. It’s lighter, it’s more flexible, it’s going to make your patients feel so much better, so use our mesh instead of the old things that have worked for so long.”

Mike Papantonio: Let me put this in perspective for you. Okay. You’re in a business, and five, six years before, there are hundreds and hundreds of cases saying that this thing that you’re about to put on the market will cause bad human injury. Now, for example, if you can imagine, these were actually used for vaginal … there’s a vaginal mesh program. Now, we’re talking about hernia mesh, which is the same material. It caused such injury inside a woman’s vagina and the whole area around anywhere it touched, it caused these Adhesions, it caused pain that was so bad that woman had to basically have hysterectomies, I mean radical hysterectomies because the pain was so bad.

As you said, the mesh would merge with other tissue, it would merge with other organs, and women died from this. There’s no difference in the material we’re talking about here, where they use this for small bowel resections sections. They use it for ventral hernia repair. They use it for bilateral tissue flaps. They use it for a whole host of things.

Why do they use it? They use it because doctors who aren’t really trained in some of these procedures can then say, “Well, I don’t really need to have special training, I’ll just use this mesh package that little Susie distributor shows up at the doctor’s office with cupcakes. Doc, we got a new product. It’s this mesh product. You can use it in surgery. You don’t have to be a specialist. You can put this in anybody’s body.” It is a disaster, and Doc, who’s simply looking at the business aspect of it says, “Oh, that’s great. I can do more procedures. I don’t have to have special training, because I have this package. It’s the hernia package. It’s the Johnson and Johnson hernia package that I can use every single day without special training.”

And in the mean time, they botch the process, and hundreds of thousands of people all over the world are using these kinds of products, and it’s killing them. And Johnson and Johnson says, “Oh, that’s okay, we can still turn a profit.”

Farron Cousins: Here’s a really good analogy for what you just said. It’s basically the difference between going and hiring a master craftsman to make you a desk, or going and buying a pre-boxed packaged desk with pieces one, two, three, four, five, that comes with the instructions on how to put it together. You’re going to get a lesser quality product, but it’s cheaper and faster. And that’s what these mesh kits are. It is a step by step, paint by the numbers, every hernia is the same, so don’t worry about it if you’ve never done one before. The instructions are basically on the back of the box.

Mike Papantonio: Right.

Farron Cousins: Whereas in the past, you would have a skilled surgeon go in, they wouldn’t have to use these. They would get in there, repair the tissue. It would take a little bit longer, they couldn’t do as many surgeries in the day. But when hospitals became all about profits, it was turn them and burn them. Get them in, get them out.

Mike Papantonio: Hospitals became a corporation. No longer doctor hospitals, it’s no different than Exxon. It’s just, it’s a hospital. But it’s a corporate hospital. Look, if you’re told, listen to this. You’re told, yeah, you can use this product, but you might want to know it can cause death, it can cause, where it’s put in, it’ll cause that area to deform. It’ll cause contact and migration with other organ systems that will cause failure of the organ systems. It’ll induce adhesion’s that cause chronic and severe pain that we can’t correct. But you know, you’re welcome to use it.

These are the types of things the patient doesn’t know, because the patient trusts the doctor. The doctor says, “Oh, yeah, this is good stuff.” And if they only understood how little the doctor really knows about it, especially the doctors who are using this stuff, because these aren’t doctors, as you say, most of the time, it’s not like special craftsman surgeons who can solve this problem without any kind of mesh. They can solve it without mesh, they can solve it with real tissue. But you know what, every doctor can’t do that, therefore you reduce the business that a doctor can do.

Farron Cousins: Right, and you got the board of directors at a hospital saying, “Hey, you spent three hours on this surgery. We could’ve had the guy from down the hall do it in one hour with a mesh kit. That’s more money.”

But also, we have to talk about the FDA’s role in this, because Johnson and Johnson, as you said, they came to the mesh part a little later than everybody else.

Mike Papantonio: A lot later.

Farron Cousins: They didn’t have to get approval for their hernia mesh, because the FDA is so screwed up that the rule is you walk into the office and say, “Hey, I’ve got this new mesh, but it’s so similar to these other meshes on the market, that we didn’t have to do any testing because they did the testing. You approve theirs, you have to approve ours.”

Mike Papantonio: And when it goes bad, doctors that we talked to, the first round of these mesh cases, doctors we talked to said it’s the equivalent of trying to remove concrete from rebar when we’re trying to remove this, only we’re talking about human tissue.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.