Three lawsuits against the makers of Fosamax, a popular medication to prevent bone loss, are slated to go to trial, including one filed in Alabama state court by Beasley Allen attorney W. Chad Cook. The lawsuits are among the nearly 900 cases brought against Merck & Co. by 1,280 plaintiff groups who allege Fosamax caused them serious jaw problems.
Fosamax is from a family of drugs known as bisphosphonates, designed to help fight the affects of bone decay from osteoporosis. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995 as an oral medication to prevent bone loss and fractures, Fosamax has become one of the more prescribed brands to treat the disease in recent years.
Recent studies, however, suggest the drug may cause more harm than good. Fosamax has since been linked to a serious jaw problem known as jaw osteonecrosis (ONJ), a condition in which the jawbone tissue dies causing pain, swelling or infection of the gums and jaw, gums that won’t heal, and loose teeth. Severe cases of ONJ may require surgery.
High doses of bone-strengthening drugs like Fosamax have been used intravenously to treat cancer patients to prevent the spread of the disease to the bones. Up to 10 percent of those patients have been diagnosed with ONJ. The condition was once thought to be a risk only for patients using the medication at higher doses. But a May 2005 report showed that 7 of 63 bisphosphonate users who developed ONJ had been using the oral form.
Merck & Co. is no stranger to controversy. In 2004, the drug company pulled its arthritis medication, Vioxx, off the market after it was linked to heart attacks. Merck has since paid $4.85 billion to resolve claims from thousands of patients harmed by Vioxx.