June 17, 2015 — Drug-makers who made billions promoting testosterone for “Low T” have been accused of disease mongering to boost sales.
The booming popularity of testosterone therapy is linked to an ad campaign AbbVie used to promote its testosterone gel product AndroGel. The ads told middle-aged men to talk to their doctor about “Low T” if they experienced fatigue, depressed mood, weight-gain, or decreased libido.
The result was a skyrocketing number of prescriptions for testosterone. About one in four men received a prescription without ever having a blood test to check testosterone levels.
The Washington Post published an editorial by experts who said drug-makers had “clearly crossed the line into off-label drug promotion.” The experts called the ads “disease mongering” — selling a disease to sell a drug, blurring the lines between infomercials and public health warnings:
“It’s a simple formula: The more diagnoses doctors make, the more prescriptions they can write. The ‘Is It Low-T?’ campaign appears to be about getting as many men as possible diagnosed.”
Some startling statistics were also recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society:
- Prescriptions for testosterone increased 10-fold in the United States in the last decade.
- Sales increased from $324 million in 2002 to $2 billion in 2012.
- Prescriptions jumped from 100 million in 2007 to 500 million in 2012.
As massive numbers of men started using testosterone, several studies also found higher rates of heart attack, stroke, venous thromboembolism, and death associated with the use of testosterone. The FDA has asked drug-makers to provide warnings about these risks. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed, but it is not clear if anyone will be held accountable.