February 14, 2012 — Merck Co. is facing lawsuits brought by 50 men and women who claim they suffered severe side effects caused by a drug used to treat male-pattern baldness. The people took drugs such as Propecia, Proscar, or finasteride (the generic name of the drug). In the complaint, they claim that the drug company failed to warn them that these drugs for male-pattern baldness could cause serious, permanent sexual dysfunction. Several people bringing the lawsuit are wives of men who took the drugs and suffered sexual dysfunction, because their quality of life was also harmed by the drug.
Merck had been facing dozens of individual lawsuits brought by people from 22 states across the United States. On January 27, 2012, a federal judge decided to consolidate the individual lawsuits into one single lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court. The plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial, though it is still possible that Merck will decide to settle the case before it goes before a judge.
The plaintiffs argue that one of the most serious side effects of using the drugs is severe sexual side effects. Though the drugs already contain a warning for erectile dysfunction, many men have suffered reduced libido, infertility, reduced sensation, and persistent sexual dysfunction that did not improve after they stopped taking the medication. Other people involved in the complaint against Merck claim that they suffered cognitive impairment and depression caused by the medication.
The plaintiffs claim that Merck failed to adequately warn them of the dangers of the drug. Several studies have found remarkably high rates of sexual dysfunction in men who take these drugs for male-pattern baldness, with one study finding that nearly 40% of men suffer such side effects.
One major problem with inadequate labeling is that it is unlikely that a man will think that a drug he is taking for male-pattern baldness is causing his sexual dysfunction. Furthermore, the doctors who prescribe this medication (dermatologists and general practitioners) may be unlikely to communicate with the doctors who treat erectile problems (urologists).
The problem is that finasteride, which is the active drug in Propecia and other male-pattern baldness drugs, interacts with testosterone. It converts to another chemical, which treats baldness by shrinking the hair follicles in a man’s scalp.
The plaintiffs bringing the litigation against Merck claim that the company actively avoided warning men of the risks the drugs could pose to their sexual function. The company recently removed content on the Propecia website, prompting some to speculate that the company could update safety information.
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