Merck’s Propecia and Proscar medications continue to be named in lawsuits alleging the company failed to warn users about their serious side effects, including erectile dysfunction, infertility, depression and suicide. According to a report from Lawyers USA Online, plaintiffs in some Propecia and Proscar lawsuits are seeking mass tort status in anticipation that the litigation surrounding the drugs will continue to grow.
As we’ve previously reported, Propecia (finasteride 1mg) and Proscar (finasteride 5 mg) are both part of a class of drugs known as 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, or 5-ARIs. Propecia is prescribed to treat male pattern baldness, while Proscar is prescribed to men with enlarged prostate. 5-ARIs like Propecia and Proscar work by preventing the conversion of androgen testosterone to DHT, a hormone critical to male sexual performance.
According to Lawyers USA Online, Proscar and Propecia lawsuits have been filed in a number of states. The first, which is seeking mass tort status, was filed in New Jersey federal court in February on behalf of a Texas man and a Nevada man who took the medication for male pattern baldness. Another petition for a mass tort was filed in state court in New Jersey on behalf of 46 plaintiffs, and will likely include hundreds of plaintiffs. In December, a New York plaintiff filed a motion to centralize the cases in a multi-district litigation.
In Canada, Merck Canada has been named in a class action lawsuit by a Proscar user who took the drug for about eight months in 2008. According to the complaint, the plaintiff, a man in his 20s, now suffers from erectile dysfunction, which led him to drop out of school, quit work for a time and contemplate suicide.
In all of the lawsuits, plaintiffs claim their problems persisted even after they stopped taking the drugs.
Dr. Alan Jacobs, a neuroendocrinologist in New York who recently spoke at a teleconference about Propecia, says he is seeing more young men between 18 and 30 who have suffered symptoms of “hypogonadism,” including erectile dysfunction, loss of sexual libido and loss of REM sleep-related erections, after using finasteride, Lawyers USA Online said. A subset of these patients also develops brain-related disorders like anxiety, inability to concentrate and “brain fog.”
In about a third of his patients’ cases, Jacobs said the symptoms improve within three months of stopping the drug; in other cases, patients who stop taking the drug, improve and then decide to try it again suffer symptoms even worse than the first time “as if the body remembers the drug and has a much more virulent response,” he said, according to Lawyers USA Online.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have focused on the fact that Merck added stronger warnings to the drugs’ foreign labels, but never followed suit in the U.S., according to Lawyers USA Online. In 2008, Merck changed the Propecia label in Sweden to warn that the drug could lead to permanent erectile dysfunction. Similar changes to the labels in the U.K. and Italy followed in 2009 and 2010.
One plaintiff’s attorney told Lawyers USA Online that Merck did update its U.S. label in 2011, but the change didn’t warn about persistent sexual side effects after discontinuation of use.
The Canadian label continues to state that side effects are rare and symptoms resolve themselves if users either stay on the drug or stop using it.