Fluoroquinolones – Mitochondrial Toxicity

Rx warning: possible mitochondrial toxicity


By J. Ryne Danielson
Public Relations

Powerful antibiotics Levaquin and Cipro, as well as other members of the flouroquinolone family, may be responsible for dangerous but unacknowledged side effects, including mitochondrial toxicity syndrome, a disruption of cellular function which causes severe nerve damage. photo by Sarah Pack, Public Relations

When Raja Fayad, M.D., was murdered on the campus of the University of South Carolina this past February, he was working on something big, something Charles Bennett, M.D., Ph.D., hopes will be part of his legacy.

Bennett is the SmartState endowed chair for medication safety and efficacy at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy, a partnership between USC and MUSC. Bennett also runs one of the largest and most successful pharmaceutical watchdog groups in the country, the Southern Network on Adverse Reactions — SONAR.  

In June and September 2014, SONAR filed two citizen petitions with the Food and Drug Administration regarding fluoroquinolones, a class of drug that includes the powerful antibiotics levofloxacin and ciprofloxacin — Levaquin and Cipro. Bennett wants “possible mitochondrial toxicity” and “serious psychiatric events” added to the drugs’ black box labels — the most prominent warning label required by the FDA.

SONAR has gathered testimony from hundreds of patients who have experienced muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, cardiomyopathy, hearing loss, developmental disorders, severe depression or nerve damage after taking Levaquin and related drugs.

A recent report from the FDA’s Office of Safety and Epidemiology has also linked neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to quinolones and the mitochondrial toxicity reported by some patients after taking them.

The problem: most patients – even most doctors – don’t know these side effects exist. On top of that, the most common use of the drugs is off-label, that is, for uses other than those explicitly approved by the FDA.

Dr. Charlest Bennett is the SmartState endowed chair for medication safety and efficacy at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy.

Bennett gave an example: “A patient goes to see their doctor on a Friday afternoon because they don’t feel well. What we should do is watch that patient closely, see if they really have an infection; they probably don’t. The patient hates that. On the other hand, give them a prescription for Levaquin and they think, ‘my doctor’s taking good care of me.’”

The drugs are often prescribed, Bennett said, to placate patients — and doctors themselves.

“The antibiotics are viewed as harmless and effective,” Bennett said. “So, why not write the prescription?”

But, he stressed, the risk-benefit profile of quionolones, like all medications, is favorable only when the drugs are administered according to FDA–approved indications.

Pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to market their drugs off–label, but doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs, including quinolones, for off–label use. Seventy–five percent of all prescriptions are written off-label, Bennett said. This presents problems when doctors are not fully aware of the possible side effects associated with the drugs they are prescribing, which is why Bennett believes getting a black box warning is so important.

Bennett is clear: He doesn’t want the drugs banned. Levaquin and Cipro are important drugs, especially in clinical oncology where they are used to treat infections in patients undergoing chemotherapy.
“Every drug has side effects,”Bennett said. “If the drug has a favorable risk-benefit profile, then it should be on the market.”

For mitochondrial toxicity syndrome, Bennett believes, the risk could be mitigated with a simple genetic test. But, before this test can be developed, the risks must be acknowledged.
SONAR is the only pharmaceutical watchdog group that focuses on drugs used in the treatment of cancer.

“We have a niche that nobody else in the country can be in,” Bennett said. “The science is too hard. You have to understand oncology.”

Bennett does. He is an oncologist. It is this clinical training that sets him apart in his field. Being a clinician, focusing on pharmaceutical safety, he believes, is very different from being a statistician, looking for safety signals. Rather than combing large databases for adverse drug reactions, like most watchdogs, Bennett goes directly to the patients themselves.

SONAR is a fitting acronym for Bennett’s group. “SONAR listens to people who have been harmed by an adverse drug reaction,” he said. “We give patients a voice.” He continued, “If a patient takes a drug and experiences a terrible side effect, what could they do? What could they do? They’d be upset, I know that. But, what could an ordinary citizen do?
“One option might be to call their doctor. What would the doctor say? ‘That’s a terrible thing that’s happened to you, I’ll put it in your notes.’ The patient wouldn’t feel very good about that.

“So, they’d say, ‘Let me call the FDA,’ and they’ll call up some number in Washington. They’re put through a series of push-ones and push-twos, until they get to a person that says, ‘That’s a terrible thing that’s happened to you, please send us a two-page report.’

“The FDA gets more than 250,000 such reports every year. The patient would be filed away and never even get a thank-you note.

“Then the patient might call the drug company. One can imagine how that would go. The drug company will have a drug safety representative who is required to file a report with the FDA within 15 days. They’ll say, ‘That’s a terrible thing,’ and file their report. But, at the end of the day, the patient is back at square one.

“A final option,” Bennett said, “is SONAR.”

Bennett’s group has personally collected hundreds of patients’ stories from across the country, in addition to the more than 130,000 adverse event reports for quinolones that have been filed with the FDA.

“Levaquin, Cipro — these are billion–dollar drugs,” Bennett said. “But the FDA has the authority and responsibility to ensure they’re labeled correctly.”

Dr. Raja Fayad, killed last February in a shooting on USC’s Columbia campus, was working to prove a link between Levaquin and and MTS. His paper is still under review. photo provided

Before Fayad was killed, he was engaged in documenting these side effects in a preclinical setting, adding empirical evidence to a surfeit of anecdotal accounts. Fayad’s paper, submitted last summer, has been under review for eight months. This is an unusually long time, Bennett said, saying it amounted to a “pocket veto.” Since Fayad is no longer able to fight for his work, Bennett is stepping in.

“I spoke with the editor and said I need this paper adjudicated – it’s an important piece of Raja’s legacy,” Bennett explained. “I received a commitment that the adjudication will happen.”
Bennett said the pushback from drug companies has been “unbelievable.”

The companies he has taken on have a market capitalization in excess of $700 trillion; their products are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

“You can’t do what I do and think the drug companies don’t notice you,” he said. “Wyeth, Celegene, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Roche, Genentech, even General Electric — you can’t find a major drug company that SONAR hasn’t found an issue with.”

Bennett’s work with erythropoietin and darbepeotin, to cite one example, led to a 90 percent decrease in annual sales of these drugs in the cancer setting – from $6 billion to less than $1 billion.

Bennett said many things can happen when one finds themselves on the wrong end of a powerful corporation: “Sometimes you find that you’re not invited to conferences you used to be invited to. You’re kicked off committees. Sometimes they send private investigators after you.

“They’ve looked at everything I’ve ever done in my life,” Bennett said. “At the end of the day, most people would not do my work. It’s far too dangerous.”

Bennett’s grants have been repeatedly and aggressively audited. “I am pleased that after careful review,” he said, “they did not identify a single dollar that I had misspent over a 27 year academic career. There has been a concerted effort to shut my program down, but it is not shut down. We will be heard.”

Pushback doesn’t just come from drug companies, Bennett said, but from the FDA itself. After filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the FDA, Bennett discovered the agency’s own safety experts had investigated reports related to fluoroquinolones and found evidence of the same side effects SONAR found.

SONAR’s citizen petitions request that the FDA include its own safety panel’s findings in the drugs’ package inserts. The FDA has indicated they have received the citizen petitions, and they are under review, but no action has been taken to date.

“The FDA is not in the business of pushing back very hard against the drug companies,” Bennett said. “The FDA’s client is the pharmaceutical industry.”

Bennett explained: “If you’re an underpaid government employee, working at the FDA — you maybe have a good heart — but if you decide you want a better paying job, what do you do? You take a job with the pharmaceutical industry. If your resume shows you’ve been leading the charge to remove drugs from the market, the only place that resume is going is in the garbage.”

Bennett said the current method for determining the severity and rarity of side effects in off–label uses of medications is unacceptable. For one, he said, it is very expensive to get a drug approved for a specific use. This is why so many prescriptions are written off–label to begin with. “It costs about $800 million to do the appropriate testing to support a new indication for a drug. Many drug companies say, ‘Look, we’ve got a small number of labeled indications that we can live with — we’ll let the market take care of the rest.’”

How could a drug be around for 20 years and these side effects remain undocumented? Bennett said this failure reveals “not just a chip in the armor — the armor has fallen off. And this is not the only drug like this — I’ve investigated 50 drugs like this.”  

Over the past few months, Bennett has met with 10 U.S. Senators and two Congressmen, including Republican Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Congressman James Clyburn, who represents South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District. He has also made numerous media appearances in support of his petition.

But, Bennett stressed, he is not an advocate. He is a scientist.

“Scientists need a seat at the table,” Bennett said. “And so do these patients. They need a voice.”

Bennett said he is proud that MUSC and USC have stood by his controversial work and that this work has helped save so many lives. He is pleased that the NIH and the American Cancer Society have long supported his drug safety research. NIH continues to fund the work with a five year R01 grant — of which Bennett is the principal investigator. The American Cancer Society has also awarded Bennett a four-year
Institutional Research Grant that facilitates start–up funding for junior cancer researchers on the MUSC and USC campuses.

Most importantly, Bennett said, he is committed to helping disseminate Fayad’s work, which “will have important public health benefits for thousands.”

“In my life,” he said, “I always wanted to be in a position to make a difference and to save lives through public health and public policy initiatives. I think that’s what I am doing. SONAR has saved tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. That’s a good day’s work.”

April 2, 2015


Below is a new website regarding fluoroquinolones. We are working on news segments around the country to raise further awareness about this toxicity. We are getting some major news stations to run stories on this antibiotic poisoning. Please visit the website when you have time. Thank you.  www.Levaquinstories.com

Taking a short break.

The last few months have been especially difficult. The passing of my friend Bob Grozier was very sad. He was a great guy and a tremendous advocate against fluoroquinolone poisoning. In addition, my mother was hospitalized with pneumonia and had to do a lot of rehab. A week after discharge she fell and suffered a compression fracture so she is back in rehab. Because of all this, I have been taking a break from blogging about fluoroquinolone poisoning. After this break, I will resume my advocacy. I am working on a 2015 Johnson & Johnson shareholder protest with other Levaquin victims. Thank you all for helping to spread the word about this terrible toxicity.

Johnson & Johnson 2014 annual shareholder meeting.

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to travel to the annual Johnson & Johnson shareholder meeting. Fortunately, I have a lot of help with making this trip since it is hard on my body. We’ll see what the con artists have to say this year. I am allowed a two minute speech to the CEO, Board Directors, and shareholders. There are about 1,000 people in attendance. This will be my fifth year in a row. I will definitely keep my speech more civil than last year. I want to make sure that I am allowed to return every year to give a presentation. My life, and far too many others, has been ruined by Levaquin. And this is just one drug. There are over 28,000 lawsuits for their vaginal mesh product alone. There is also the metal on metal hip scandle and all the problems with marketing Risperdal for indications that were never approved as safe and effective by the FDA. Johnson & Johnson knowlingly and needlessly put the elderly, children, and the disabled at risk of harm. It simply doesn’t get any worse than this. If Johnson & Johnson tries to harrass me in any way, I will put out a press release on prnewswire through the PR firm that my family hired. I don’t think J&J will do anything to me, but it is best to be prepared.

Johnson & Johnson vaginal mesh

Below is a link to a recent jury decision about Johnson & Johnson’s vaginal mesh product. I feel so sorry for all the women that were injured. Nobody really understands the magnitude of suffering unless you personally go through it. It is simply staggering the magnitude of people injured by Johnson & Johnson products. Please make sure to boycott all Johnson & Johnson conumer products. This company doesn’t deserve your hard earned money. As always, thank you for your advocacy.      


Eat Wild. Support local farmers.

So many of us Floxies ( Fluoroquinolone injured victims ) have ravaged guts. We need to be very careful about what we put in our bodies. Many of us suffer from leaky gut syndrome. The majority of us that are moderately and severely affected do not tolerate chemicals, growth hormones, GMO’s, antibiotics that are in animal feed. Below is a great resource for purchasing organic animal products. You can click on that state you live in for a directory of local farmers that have grass fed beef and chemical free animal products. Personally, I sometimes react to organic animal products that I buy in supermarkets. Perhaps it is because some suppliers use a vegetable feed that consists of soy instead of a grass fed diet. I don’t eat much animal products but I know it is important to at least get a little in my diet to help with vitamin B12. It is always good to support local farmers so if you do purchase animal products, you may want to visit this website.   http://www.eatwild.com/products/index.html

New study on the risk of arrhythmia and death associated with Levaquin ( Levofloxacin )

Below is a recent study on the increased risk of heart arrhythmia and death with the use of Azithromycin and Levaquin. I remember watching the national news one night and seeing a story by Diane Sawyer on the increased risk of arithymia and death associated with Azithromyacin. Hopefully there will be some sort of follow-up news segement on this newly found risk associated with Levaquin. It would have been nice if Johnson & Johnson had made the public more aware of this risk.   http://www.annfammed.org/content/12/2/121.full



New article on Fluoroquinolone induced peripheral neuropathy and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Ayad Ali wrote an article published this month on Fluoroquinolones causing peripheral neuropathy and Guillain-Barre syndrome. More and more information keeps coming out on the damage that this class of antibiotics causes.     

Hyperbaric Oxygen for Levaquin Toxicity

I read on the FQ Facebook forums of a couple of victims who did hyperbaric ( HBOT) treatment. Both of them had some level of improvement. Niether of them were close to being cured though. Fluoroquinolone toxicity is often so severe and diffuse that there really is no single cure. I figured I would give HBOT a try as I have been on pain medications for many years from my Levaquin poisoning. I have completed thirty treatment sessions in a hard shell chamber. The office staff is really wonderful. None of them ever heard of Levaquin toxicity. I gave them lots of cards and literature on this poisoning. I plan on doing ten more treatment sessions for a total of fourty. The hard shell chamber is equiped with a small Tv so that patients can watch dvd videos. So far, I haven’t seen any reduction in pain. My head tremor is slightly reduced but none of my other symptoms have lessened. I was told that the benefits of HBOT are sometimes seen after treatment. I hope this is true. In addition to HBOT, one of my many doctors prescribed supplemental oxygen. The oxygen company provided a portable unit along with the free standing machine. Maybe it will provide some benefit along with the HBOT. I would be estatic if there was even a 10 percent reduction in symptoms. 

I am contemplaing bee venom therapy as my next move. I have watched quite a few videos of bee sting treatment for pain. Bee venom therapists are known as Apitherapists. I am not sure if I can stand the sting of live bees. I may have to if I want to try and reduce my pain medications. I hope 2014 is a good year for the floxed community.

Dr. Marc Rodwin: Conflicts of Interest and the Future of Medicine.

Dr. Marc Rodwin has written extensively about off-label marketing and the medical industrial complex.  He has a new book out below.  It looks to be a fantastic read for anyone interested in this subject.     


Design by Aaron Melvin