Thank you for your Propecia pieces. I’m 50 and started the med when I was 37. It’s destroyed my life.” D.W. — Los Angeles After reading The Examiner’s recently published articles on the devastating side effects of the hair growth drug Propecia, a reader sent the above email. He’s not alone: As word gets out, many more men are now coming forward to say they are also Propecia’s unsuspecting victims. Propecia is the brand name for the drug finasteride when it is prescribed in 1mg doses to treat male pattern baldness. (When finasteride is prescribed in 5mg doses to treat enlarged prostate – also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH — it is sold under the brand name Proscar). Drug giant Merck & Co. manufactures Propecia which is sold worldwide. Doctors who know about Propecia’s hair growth properties have no idea about its serious sexual side effects. “Many of my friends take Propecia and I had no idea it had these side effects … and I stay on top of the latest medical news,” says Dr. Bashir A. Zakria, Assistant Professor, Division of Sports Medicine at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Medical Institutes. Propecia’s sexual side effects include erectile dysfunction, impotence, greatly reduced libido, testicular pain, problems with orgasms and gynecomastia – an over-development of the male breast frequently associated with social and emotional trauma in men. Dr. Michael S. Irwig, Assistant Professor of Medicine at George Washington University’s School of Medicine conducted the ground-breaking research published last year in the Journal of Sexual Medicine that was one of the first studies to report on Propecia’s dreadful side effects. “Seventy-one men between the ages of 21 and 46 participated in the research and about half were from outside the United States. I have seen patients from as far away as Australia and England,” says Dr. Irwig. He found that 94 percent developed low libido, 92 percent developed erectile dysfunction and decreased arousal, and 69 percent developed problems with orgasm. “It turns out that almost all had multiple sexual function problems. Men reported average all inclusive sexual activity of approximately 26 episodes per month before taking Propecia, but there was an almost two-thirds reduction in sexual activity after using the drug.” Dr. Irwig believes this is just the tip of the iceberg. While the FDA remains quiet on the subject, word is slowly getting out as more media outlets cover the emerging story. Just over a year ago, CBS Money Watch ran a story that tied Propecia to persistent sexual side effects that were not fully disclosed on the drug’s labeling. The January 13, 2011 article reported that, “Merck (MRK) is experiencing some rough PR issues on its hair-loss drug Propecia following a study that suggests up to 15 percent of men taking the drug might experience some form of sexual dysfunction. For years, the warning label on Propecia has said that only 2 percent of men might experience erectile dysfunction while using the drug, and if users stop taking the pills everything returns to normal.” The story by correspondent Jim Edwards went on to report that: “But a new study, in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, suggests the rate of dysfunction is a lot higher and that in some cases men are permanently hobbled by erectile dysfunction or loss of libido even after stopping the drug. The study dovetails with a recent BBC report on one 26-year-old man who claims the drug ruined his life. The Money Watch article went on to reveal that, “A quick search of hair-loss comment boards shows that plenty of men have had the same experience: They grew hair but lost their sex lives. “In Sweden, health authorities require Propecia to carry a warning that sexual side effects of the drug may be irreversible. That’s a much more serious warning than the one the drug carries in the U.S. … where Merck earns about $400 million a year in revenue from Propecia.” In a follow-up report on March 22, 2011, Edwards reported that, “Merck (MRK) has some explaining to do about why its warnings of the risk of persistent or permanent sexual dysfunction in men taking the hair loss drug Propecia are different depending on where you live and how much you take.”
The official warning label for the drug in the U.S. says that sexual side effects — such as erectile dysfunction — occurred in less than two percent of men and that these side effects went away in men who stopped taking it. But a lawsuit filed in New Jersey federal court last year by two men who took Propecia, claims that in the U.K., Sweden and Italy the Propecia warning label says that sexual dysfunction may be permanent. The suit follows a recent study in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine by researchers from Boston University, which puts the rate of sexual dysfunction at 5-23 percent, with permanence in half of those. A 2008 study by the same authors put the rate at up to 38 percent. In commenting on the study, Merck said: “For men with male pattern hair loss, Propecia remains an important treatment option for appropriate patients. Merck encourages healthcare providers and consumers to report any adverse experience associated with any Merck medication or vaccine. Patients should talk with their healthcare providers if they have any questions about the benefits and risks of Propecia.” The only problem is that many medical providers in this country are unaware that Merck has changed the drug’s labeling in the U.S. to include the European warnings. The FDA did issue a new warning last year that Propecia could cause the most aggressive and deadly form of prostate cancer along with clinical depression. Despite the growing awareness of Propecia’s other devastating side effects, the FDA has not issued any warnings or recalls regarding the drug’s sexually destructive side effects. Many medical professionals remain unaware of the risk of persistent and serious sexual dysfunction since it was not originally suggested in the literature. Millions of men who have been prescribed Propecia also have no idea that they are at risk. “While government intervention is usually an unwanted intrusion into our daily lives, I believe the time has come for the FDA to step up and take immediate action in light of these startling new revelations on how Propecia can destroy the essence of a man’s sexual vitality,” says Alan Horwitz of Ingerman & Horwitz LLP, a personal injury law firm. (www.ihlaw.com) “FDA action would call national attention to Propecia’s real dangers.You can’t depend on Merck to get the message out as their reaction to these troubling developments has been to make their official Propecia website unavailable for public viewing.” (www.propecia.com) Says Horwitz: “Anyone concerned about the harm that Propecia might be causing, or might already have caused, should consult with a lawyer knowledgeable of the drug and its terrible side effects.” He notes that Propecia users have already contacted him to discuss their case. Whatever the case, Horwitz says that it is important to contact a qualified lawyer sooner rather than later to discuss legal options as there is a limited time to file a lawsuit in most states.