Low T Drug Marketing Amounts to “Disease Mongering”

Harvey Kirk

By Harvey Kirk
Posted April 24, 2014


Amid increasing evidence that Low T drug side effects may increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and even death, serious concerns have been raised about the way drug manufacturers have marketed many of the popular testosterone replacement therapies, including AndroGel, Testim, Axiron and AndroDerm.

Millions of dollars spent annually on so called “disease awareness” campaigns now appear closer to “disease mongering,” and manufacturers have turned a blind eye to the potential risk of problems with Low T drugs in their desire to generate profits.

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The Rise of “Low T” Marketing

In 1999, testosterone drugs were seen as a a “niche” industry and drug makers estimated that maybe one million American men may require the medications due to confirmed testosterone deficiency associated with a medical condition known as hypogonadism.

After introduction of the marketing term “Low T”, and advertisements that encouraged men to talk to their doctors if they suffered any number of common symptoms, such as weight gain, reduced energy or lack of sex drive, the Low T drug industry now generates more than $2 billion in annual sales and tens of millions of men use Low T gels, patches, creams and other treatments.

The rise of Low T drug marketing can largely be traced back to the rise of Viagra, the popular erectile dysfunction drug that was introduced in 1998. Soon after Viagra hit the market, it was an unquestioned blockbuster and many testosterone drug makers realized that their products may also be able to capitalize by marketing the drugs essentially for life style reasons.

By 2000, testosterone drug makers had upped the estimates of men afflicted with hypogonadism to five million men. By 2003, they were indicating that the market for testosterone medications was 20 million. Soon drug makers stopped marketing the drugs for treatment of hypogonadism, and soon started promoting them for any men who may want to boost their testosterone levels.

Terms like androgen replacement therapy became testosterone replacement, and marketing terms like andropause became “Low T”.

Reduced muscle mass, lack of energy and decreased libido are all common symptoms associated with the natural process of aging, and drug makers have capitalized on men’s desire to reverse this process by spending heavily on direct-to-consumer “disease awareness” campaigns the encourage men to seek prescription treatments for natural drops in testosterone levels that occur among all men after the age of 40.

False Advertising Behind Low T Drugs

Many experts have spoken out against deceptive direct-to-consumer marketing by the drug industry, with testosterone drug manufacturers being one of the worse offenders. The prominent site PharmedOut.Org has termed these many of these “disease awareness” campaigns as “disease mongering”: creating artificial concern, and thus boosting sales, for harmless or rare conditions, or making it seem that such conditions are well-defined when they are anything but.

In recent years PharmedOut’s director, Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, has been outspoken in the criticism of low T advertising. In September 2013 in a Chicago Tribune editorial, Fugh-Berman and PharmedOut project manager Nicole Dubowitz explained how vague suggestions of a loss of manliness have turned into billion dollar sales for testosterone drug peddlers.

They explain that through questionnaires on sites like IsItLowT.com and DriveForFive.com, sponsored by testosterone drug companies, it is hard for any man NOT to determine he must be suffering from low testosterone.

As the editorial notes:

“Symptoms are so common and vague, it’s a rare person who would avoid self-diagnosing Low T after taking the quiz at IsItLowT.com. The site is sponsored by AbbVie (formerly part of Abbott Labs), manufacturer of best-selling testosterone treatment AndroGel. If you’re bored, stressed or aging normally, you probably have Low T symptoms: grumpiness, less energy, lower libido and ‘falling asleep after dinner.’ Even if you feel fine, you may still qualify for treatment. AbbVie’s other website, DriveForFive.com, describes five risks to men’s health: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high PSA levels and — can you guess — low testosterone.”

While the commercials often claim “it is a number,” suggesting a definitive level of testosterone that indicates whether you have low T or you do not, it is simply not that straightforward.

The problem is that reduced testosterone levels, in and of itself, is not an issue that requires drug treatment. In fact, testosterone levels change dramatically during the course of the day, and there are a wide range of levels between individuals in every age category. Those levels drop one or two percent every year after the age of 40 naturally, with no need for medical conditions like hypogonadism to explain the reduction. In addition, depending on when you get tested, your results may vary greatly, as even factors like whether your favorite sports team won or lost may alter testosterone level test results.

In 2010, the Endocrine Society warned that such self-reporting quizes show little evidence of providing useful evidence of a problem. Testosterone treatments were only approved by the FDA for confirmed testosterone deficiency seen in conjunction with an associated medical condition, such as failure of the testicles to produce testosterone due to genetic problems or chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, this never stopped drug manufacturers from assailing men in the U.S. with a flood of commercials showing fit men with graying hair lifting heavy things, jogging down country roads or making eyes at their (typically much younger) wives. The tactics have worked. With the so-called “disease mongering” increasing testosterone prescriptions by a factor of five between 2002 and 2012.

Low T Drug Lawsuits

Unfortunately, amid this land grab for new drug users and desire to generate blockbuster medications to improve their bottom lines, the pharmaceutical companies failed to adequately warn about the heart risks with low T drugs.

In November 2013, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that veterans who started using testosterone replacement therapy following a coronary angiography experienced a 29% increased risk of death, heart attack or stroke.

This research has been followed by another study published by the medical journal PLoS One in January 2014, which also highlighted the risk of heart problems from Low T drugs. Researchers found that men over the age of 65 may be twice as likely to suffer a non-fatal heart attack while using a Low T treatment, and men under the age of 65 may still face a two-fold risk if they have pre-existing heart disease.

In response to these studies, the FDA has launched an investigation into the safety of low testosterone treatments, and many men are realizing that they never would have agreed to take prescription medications for Low T if they had been provided accurate and complete warnings.

The low T drug lawyers at Saiontz & Kirk, P.A. are reviewing potential claims for users of AndroGel, AndroDerm, Testim, Axiron and other testosterone treatments who have suffered a:

  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
  • Other Blood Clot Injury
  • Wrongful Death

All cases are reviewed by our attorneys with no fees unless we win. To review a potential claim for yourself, a friend or family member, request a free consultation and claim evaluation.

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