PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A grieving mother's warning about a popular medication, taken by millions, that can cause devastating and long term side effects. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has exclusive details.
"I'm going to be living the rest of my life without my son," said Rosemary of New Jersey. Her son Randy was just 22-years-old when he killed himself. His parents blame the hair loss drug PROPECIA. Randy was taking it because his curly red hair had started to recede.
"It is so not worth it," said Rosemary.
The warning label says there can be sexual side effects, including lack of desire and difficulty achieving an erection. They're supposed to go away when men stop taking the drug.
Not for Randy, he told his parents when he stopped taking PROPECIA the impotence continued along with deepening depression.
"He hated all the things that the drug had done to him. He hoped his family and friends would understand why he didn't want to live anymore," said Rosemary.
Randy and scores of other men have shared their devastating discoveries on propeciahelp.com. But they're too embarrassed to show their faces.
One man told us, "It basically destroyed my life. It's devastating. It's terrible.
Another says, "It's not worth it, if you can't have a sex life. I feel like my twenties have been taken away from me, and it's not fair."
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New research from Dr. Michael Irwig at George Washington University shows some men can have persistent sexual side effects lasting five years after they stop taking PROPECIA.
"The presence of persistent sexual side effects in young men who were previously completely healthy can really take a big toll on their life," said Dr. Irwig.
PROPECIA works by altering hormones. Dr. Irwig suspects, in a small percentage of men, that can cause sexual dysfunction.
Merck, the maker of PROPECIA, says that study is flawed.
"They feel less than human because of it," said Alan Milstein, a New Jersey lawyer. He is suing Merck, on behalf of several men who claim the drug ruined their lives.
"When something as essential as sexual pleasure is taken from you, it has a profound affect," said Milstein. He says Merck was not adequately warning men taking PROPECIA about the potential for long term impotence.
"Whether that was done intentionally so they could make a lot of money and not scare people away, that's going to remain to be seen as this lawsuit progresses," said Milstein.
Randy's parents say he tried therapy and different medications, but nothing worked.
"This is really the closest thing we have to a suicide note," said Randy's father. He saved his sons postings from the PropeciaHelp website.
"I'm really hoping that this drug kills me so I don't have to do it myself. I don't think my family and friends would ever understand suicide. But if they really knew what the meaningless ghostly hell I've descended into, then they would understand," read Randy's father.
Merck says it will vigorously defend the lawsuits.
Just two weeks ago, since we started working on this story, warning labels for PROPECIA in the United States were revised to include complaints about persistent sexual side effects.
But Merck stands by its studies saying once the drug is stopped the dysfunction goes away.
If you have any questions, be sure to contact your doctor.
Propecia Information- http://www.propecia.com/finasteride/propecia/consumer/index.jsp
Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3
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