The United States pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest in the world. Of the top ten pharmaceutical companies on the planet, six of them — more than half — are based in the United States, including the top two, Johnson & Johson and Pfizer. Johnson & Johnson, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, employs an army of nearly 130,000 workers, and generates billions of dollars in profits on an annual basis. In the fourth quarter of 2013 alone, Johnson & Johnson reported sales of over $18 billion.
Pharmaceutical companies aren’t only big earners, they’re big spenders. According to a statement issued by the World Health Organization, “Companies currently spend one-third of all sales revenue on marketing their products — roughly twice what they spend on research and development.” In one succinct sentence, WHO has captured a grim reality about “Big Pharma” — that pushing product takes precedence over guarding against health risks to the innocent consumer. In the past, this unethical prioritization of sales over safety has led to the widespread use of extremely harmful medications like Thalidomide, Epilim, and Yaz. Now, it’s been uncovered that AbbVie’s bestselling testosterone supplement AndroGel causes serious health risks. So what are the dangers of AndroGel and testosterone supplements?
The History of AndroGel and Testosterone Supplements
In 2000, the FDA put their stamp of approval on a promising new drug called AndroGel. Manufactured by pharmaceutical company AbbVie, an offshoot of Abbott Laboratories, AndroGel was marketed as a topical gel which could boost below-normal testosterone to a healthy, normal level.
For men suffering from a condition known as hypogonadism, which occurs when the body does not produce sufficient amounts of testosterone on its own, AndroGel seemed like great news. In a matter of months or even weeks, AndroGel could start to combat the unpleasant and embarrassing symptoms of hypogonadism, which include erectile dysfunction, infertility, decreased muscle, body hair, and bone mass, and gynecomastia (development of breast tissue in men). Better still, AndroGel was a topical medication, meaning there were no bulky, chalky pills or bitter, gluey liquids to choke down.
At first, nothing about AndroGel seemed particularly sinister. After all, testosterone replacement therapy had been researched since the 1930s, when testosterone was first synthesized by early steroid biochemists. (Going even further back in history, testicle transplants in chickens had first been experimented with in the nineteenth century.) Following its debut in 2000, AndroGel was used for over a decade with no serious public outcry or frightening data smirching its name.
In 2012, AndroGel had one of its most profitable years yet, with approximately three million prescriptions filled. That means nearly 1% of the entire U.S. population has an AndroGel prescription. For three million men, relief from below-average testosterone levels seemed to be within easy — and safe — reach.
AndroGel and Testosterone Supplement Prescriptions
AndroGel is just one of several popular products currently on the market for the treatment of low testosterone levels in males, alongside other testosterone-boosting drugs like AndroDerm, Axiron, Fortesta, and Testim. These drugs are intended to fight hypogonadism and restore testosterone levels to a normal, healthy amount.
Herein lies the problem. AndroGel and its ilk are meant to treat patients with abnormally low natural testosterone production. Normally, these patients would be carefully screened to ensure they were good candidates for testosterone supplements, and detailed, painstaking medical evaluations and health checkups would be implemented in the treatment process.
But remember what the World Health Organization said about the pharmaceutical industry spending far more on marketing than it does on research and development? Thanks to an aggressive and short-sighted direct-to-consumer marketing push, which prompts consumers to “ask your doctor” about any given ailment (in this case, suspected low testosterone), many of the three million prescriptions written in 2012 were dispensed to inappropriate candidates for these drugs. Suspiciously enough, the demand for testosterone-increasing products has tripled since 2001, and in 2012, testosterone drugs alone raked in roughly two billion dollars for Big Pharma.
Testosterone drugs are profitable — that’s the bottom line for the pharmaceutical companies. Tragically, this financial tunnel-vision has put millions of men at dramatically increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and even death.
Dangers of Androgel and Testosterone Supplements
During the past several years, new studies have begun to shed light on the AndroGel risks and other products that promise to raise testosterone levels. In the case of these harmful testosterone supplements, millions of men have been put at risk for serious health complications — complications that can kill.
A study published by the medical journal PLoS ONE has unearthed some extremely alarming health risk statistics pertaining to the widespread use of AndroGel and products like it. According to the study, for men who take testosterone treatments, the risk of heart attack increases:
- 2x for men aged 65 and up
- 3x for men aged 64 and down
Depending on your age, your risk for suffering a testosterone-induced heart attack could double or even triple.
It gets worse. In addition, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) recently published a study with equally bleak findings. For men taking testosterone supplements who are 60 or older, there is a 30% increase in the risk of:
- Heart Attack
It gets worse. In 2010, the esteemed NEJM (the New England Journal of Medicine) published yet another study pointing to the frightening AndroGel risks and dangers of testosterone supplement use. In the study, known as the TOM (Testosterone in Older Men) Trial, two groups were compared against one another: a group of men taking placebos, and a group of men taking bona fide testosterone supplements.
In the group of men taking the real testosterone, the risk of developing heart complications was 10 times higher than it was for the placebo group. The doctors conducting the study pulled the plug on the trial after determining it was simply too dangerous to continue — and that was in a controlled study which was constantly monitored by scrupulous medical professionals. It is all too easy to imagine how unsafe unmonitored usage could become.
While terrible enough on their own, heart attacks can actually lead to even more cardiovascular complications. If an individual is “lucky” enough to survive a heart attack (formally known as myocardial infarction), they may then have to contend with serious heart-related problems like:
- Weakened heart walls and heart wall rupture.
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
- Sudden dramatic decreases in blood pressure.
Following a heart attack, patients may be unable to resume performing the activities they were used to. Anything from jogging to heavy lifting to sexual intercourse can become excessively tiring, dangerous, or outright impossible with a weakened heart.
But heart attacks aren’t the only dramatically increased health-related AndroGel risk and other testosterone supplements. For patients taking these treatments, the risk of stroke also skyrockets.
Strokes, like a heart attack, can be fatal. Even when they are survivable, they often bring about numerous negative changes to physical health, mental wellbeing, and the effected individual’s entire lifestyle. The University Hospital of Newark, New Jersey states that:
- Strokes cause 9% of global deaths every year (4.4 million deaths per year).
- Strokes are the third most common cause of death in America (with heart attacks in first place).
- Strokes kill somebody every 3.3 minutes in the United States.
The Hospital also says that:
- Only 10% of stroke victims recover even almost completely.
- 75% of stroke victims have minor to severe permanent damage.
- Strokes kill 15% of their victims almost immediately.
These are terrifying statistics on their own. When you consider the fact that the use of AndroGel and other testosterone supplements brings the risk of stroke even higher, these already morbid figures become even more frightening.
If there’s any ray of light in this dark story, it is that AndroGel and the pharmaceutical companies who have endangered millions of lives are being held accountable: AndroGel is currently facing a class action product liability lawsuit.
Talk to a Philadelphia Product Liability Attorney
If you or someone you love has been hurt as a result of using AndroGel or similar testosterone supplement products, you may be able to seek financial restitution to help counterbalance the damages you have suffered. To speak with a highly qualified personal injury attorney with over 34 years of experience, contact the law offices of The Reiff Law Firm online, or call us today at (215) 246-9000.