AbbVie Inc., maker of the blockbuster testosterone treatment AndroGel, offered free education courses to doctors for continuing medical education credits (CME), which are required for doctors to keep their medical licenses, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigation has found. The classes promoted unapproved uses for the hormone treatment.
Testosterone treatments are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat hypogonadism, a condition in which the body does not produce enough testosterone due to disease or injury. The condition can cause fertility issues, low libido and muscle loss.
In recent years, manufacturers of testosterone treatments have launched aggressive advertising campaigns targeting male consumers with promises of increased libido, muscle gain and weight loss. The campaigns have resulted in skyrocketing prescriptions for testosterone products. However, questions have surfaced about whether the hormones are being over-prescribed, especially to men who do not have low testosterone or have natural age-related hypogonadism, for which testosterone treatment is not advised.
Concerns were heightened after recent studies linked testosterone treatments to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and death. One study showed men who used testosterone supplements had a 30 percent increased risk of heart attacks, strokes or death over the first three years of use. Another study showed a significant risk of strokes and heart attacks during the first 90 days of testosterone treatment.
The investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today is particularly concerning because it sheds light on the drug company’s attempts to grow profits even higher by suggesting testosterone therapy for men in which it is contraindicated.
Investigators found that, in 2012, AbbVie paid for doctor education courses informing doctors that they could safely prescribe testosterone treatments to men with prostate cancer. However, testosterone has been shown to increase the risk of prostate cancer. And, the safety labels of AndroGel topical testosterone gel specifically warns against giving the hormone to men with prostate cancer.
Last year, sales of testosterone treatments topped $2.1 billion. Drug companies that manufacture testosterone treatments are currently facing hundreds of lawsuits from men who say they were injured by the products.
Source: Journal Sentinel