An emergency room doctor is warning men not to take Propecia, likening use of Merck & Co.’s prescription baldness remedy to “Russian roulette.” According to a report from the Baltimore Courts Examiner, Dr. John Santmann, who recently joined a protest at Merck’s New Jersey headquarters to get the word out about Propecia sexual side effects, claims that impotence caused by the drug led to his son’s suicide.
Propecia Sexual Side Effects
Propecia (finasteride 1 mg) belongs to a class of drugs known as 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, or 5-ARIs, and is approved to treat male pattern baldness. Finasteride is also marketed by Merck in a 5-mg dose to treat enlarged prostate. Both drugs work by preventing the conversion of androgen testosterone to DHT, a hormone critical to male sexual performance. Recently, a number of lawsuits have been filed by men who claim they developed long-lasting sexual problems because of their use of finasteride, including:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low libido
- Problems with orgasm
Some of these lawsuits allege that finasteride side effects led to depression, and in some cases, suicide.
Last Spring, the Journal of Sexual Medicine published a study which found that men using finasteride may develop an ongoing loss of libido and orgasm, even after they go off the medication. The average duration of persistent sexual side effects was 40 months after they stopped taking finasteride. In about 20 percent of the cases, men reported suffering these side effects more than six years after stopping finasteride.
“Finasteride is different because it can actually change the brain’s chemistry,” Dr. Michael Irwig, Assistant Professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and lead author of the study, told the Examiner. “The enzyme 5 alpha reductase is present in many areas of the brain. It is rare for a drug to have the capability to persistently change the brain’s chemistry.”
In April, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ordered new warnings for the Propecia and Proscar labels detailing possible long-lasting male sexual side effects associated with the drug. As we reported previously, Merck changed the Propecia label in Europe several years ago to warn that the drug could lead to permanent erectile dysfunction. But until last month, warnings provided to U.S. users of the drug suggested that these problems typically resolve.
According to the Examiner, Dr. Santmann claims using Propecia caused his 22-year-old son, Randy, to become impotent and despondent.
“He wasn’t really depressed. He was in a zombie state. He didn’t want to live in this mentally crippled state,” Dr. Santmann told the Examiner while protesting outside Merck & Co.’s headquarters.
Dr. Santmann had joined Las Vegas resident Kevin Malley, 30, who began a one-man hunger strike earlier this month to protest Merck’s handling of Propecia. According to Malley, despite the recent FDA action, most men who are taking Propecia, along with doctors who are still prescribing the drug, have no idea that it can cause long-lasting sexual side effects.
Malley told the Examiner he was prescribed Propecia last year, and took it for five months. He now suffers from complete erectile dysfunction and other debilitating sexual side effects. Malley maintains that the warnings on Propecia’s label are “still grossly inadequate” because there is no mention of the mental effects and genital shrinking he says some users have experienced.
“I think this whole thing is another example by big business getting away with murder,” Dr. Santmann told the Examiner.