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Propecia Sexual Dysfunction Side Effects May Increase Risk of Suicide: Study

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New research suggests that there is a high level of correlation between sexual dysfunction side effects of Propecia, and instances where users of the hair loss drug either committed or attempted suicide. 

In a study published on-line last week by the medical journal Pharmacotherapy, researchers from the University of British Columbia, working with Eli Lilly, found what they believe is a strong link between Propecia and suicide.

Propecia (finasteride) is a prescription medication marketed by Merck to help men restore natural hair loss that occurs with male pattern baldness.

While men generally take the medication to help improve their appearance and overall quality of life, the drug maker has faced a number of Propecia lawsuits filed by men who allege that they have been left with permanent sexual complications, such as erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, genital shrinkage and problems with cognition.

Propecia was originally developed by Merck as an enlarged prostate treatment and marketed as Proscar in 1992. It was later approved to treat male pattern baldness, when it was given the name Propecia.

In this latest study, researchers examined 4,910 adverse event reports submitted to the FDA by men between the ages of 18 and 45 from 1998 to 2013. Among those reports, they found 577 complaints of persistent sexual dysfunction (SD) and 39 suicide ideation (SI) reports.

When they looked at the suicide attempts on Propecia, most of which resulted in either death, severe injury, or disability, they found that 34 of the 39 (87.2%) young men who attempted suicide also suffered from sexual dysfunction side effects. Six of those men died, 43% were disabled, 28% required medical intervention, including hospitalization, and 5% suffered life-threatening injuries.

“Low-dose finasteride was associated with more than expected reporting of SD in young men compared with reporting of these events with all other drugs in the database,” the researchers determined. “Persistent SD might be a potential risk of low-dose finasteride for androgenic alopecia therapy in young men, and this risk might contribute to SI, Our findings provide a strong hypothesis for pharmacoepidemiologic studies to further examine this association.”

Propecia Lawsuits Over Sexual Dysfunction

There are currently hundreds of product liability lawsuits pending against Merck in state and federal courts nationwide, which all allege that men suffered severe and often permanent sexual problems after using Propecia.

Since April 2012, the federal Propecia cases have been centralized before U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in the Eastern District of New York, as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), where more than 800 complaints are currently pending. Similar centralized proceedings have been established in New jersey state court, where nearly 400 additional cases are pending, as that is where the drug maker’s U.S. headquarters are based.

According to allegations raised in the complaints, Merck has failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the link between Propecia and sexual dysfunction, which may continue long after the medication is no longer used.

Prior warning information provided by the drug maker suggested that sexual dysfunction associated with the medication was rare, and that the problems resolve after use of the medication is discontinued.

Even after many men reported experiencing permanent sexual issues after Propecia use, Merck continued to provide information suggesting that the problems were temporary until the Propecia warning label was updated in April 2012.

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