Pharmaceutical giant Merck has been rocked by a wave of lawsuits, including a class action, stemming from its blockbuster hair loss drug finasteride. Finasteride, sold under the brand name Propecia, has been one of the company's best-selling drugs since it was approved by the FDA in 2004 for the treatment of male pattern baldness, one of only two medications the FDA approved to make that claim to hair loss sufferers. Financial reports filed by the company show that Merck has sold over 3.49 billion dollars worth of the Propecia hair loss medication from 2004 through 2013. Now, hundreds of lawsuits are cropping up across the nation from users alleging significant harm and health side effects from using Propecia, harm that continues even long after they discontinued using the drug.
Propecia's likelihood to cause sexual side effects for some men has been long known; the company was even forced by the FDA to add warnings about continued sexual side effect risk to their marketing materials in 2011. While the manufacturer alleges that these sexual side effects (mainly loss of libido and difficulty in achieving an erection) affect only a small percentage of users, anecdotal reports and allegations made in legal testimony indicate that these health problems are occurring in a much greater number of men then Merck has led the public to believe. Even worse, many of these Propecia lawsuits state that these severe sexual side effects continued even after the sufferer discontinued taking the drug, sometimes permanently. Men have filed suits in federal courts in every state over these problems, saying that Merck not only manufactured a drug that was defective in its design and unreasonably dangerous, but that Merck was well aware of the drug's side effects but failed to disclose them to doctors that were prescribing the drug or warning consumers about the risks.
There are an estimated 450 Propecia lawsuits currently filed and litigated in U.S. courts, with more being filed by attorneys every day. The avalanche of suits from every state has grown so large that the federal court system has established a multi-district litigation (MDL) in the Eastern District Court of New York to handle some of the similar claims for damages and compensation. New lawsuits being filed by plaintiff's lawyers allege even more severe side effects affecting brain function and cognitive ability.
For Merck, it figures to be a long expensive litigation process in the court system to settle claims from men who took their hair loss drug and are now having continued health issues from their earlier Propecia usage. Merck is no stranger to large monetary settlement costs for bad drug litigation; the company previously paid out 4.85 Billion dollars and plead guilty to a criminal charge to resolve a government lawsuit over the dangers of their arthritis drug Vioxx. Many legal experts believe Merck will work to settle these Propecia claims with individuals quickly by paying them monetary settlements to avoid the risks of losing at trial and being exposed to potentially billions of dollars in damages.