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Approved by the FDA in 1997, Propecia (finasteride) is prescribed for the treatment of male pattern hair loss. In recent years, however, many men have complained of sexual side effects, including persistent erectile dysfunction that continues even after men stop taking the drug.

Now, a Canadian judge has ruled that a class-action lawsuit against drug maker Merck can continue in British Columbia. The lead plaintiff in the case, Michael Miller, claims that after taking the medication, he suffered from lowered libido and erectile dysfunction. He blames Merck for failing to warn of the risks for persistent sexual problems.

Men Taking Proscar to Get Finasteride

Propecia contains one milligram of finasteride, which is also the active drug in Proscar, a medication prescribed to men with benign prostatic hyperplasia. Though Proscar contains five milligrams of finasteride, some men purchase it and divide it into five pieces for a more economical alternative to buying Propecia.

Miller did just that when he was 25 years old. Following his doctor’s instructions, he divided Proscar into five sections and took it to treat his male pattern baldness. He claims that within about a month, he started suffering from sexual side effects, including a diminished sex drive and the inability to maintain an erection.

Merck’s original label in the U.S. noted that less than two percent of men experienced sexual side effects in the trials preceding the launch of the drug, but that these side effects disappeared upon discontinuation of the medication. They added that for many men, the side effects disappeared as they continued taking the medication.

Miller claims that stopping the medication didn’t work for him and that he continues to suffer sexual side effects today.

Evidence of Lasting Propecia Side Effects

As early as 2008, Merck updated the warnings in Sweden to include the fact that some men had reported persistent sexual side effects after stopping Propecia. But no such warnings were available in the U.S. until 2011. Warning labels in Canada for both Propecia and Proscar noted that "so-called side effects" were "uncommon and do not effect most men," but could include impotence, problems with ejaculation and decreased semen. The labels did not indicate these side effects could be lasting.

In November 2012, researchers published a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showing that persistent sexual side effects continued to be present in 96 percent of subjects after they had stopped taking the medication. "In most men who developed persistent sexual side effects," the authors wrote, "despite discontinuation of finasteride, the sexual dysfunction continued for many months or years."

Miller claims he stopped taking Proscar in 2009, but does not know when or if his sex drive will return.

Lawsuits Continuing In Canada and the U.S.

Though certification on the British Columbia class action lawsuit is still pending—the judge still has to certify that all plaintiffs share a common complaint—this potential class action may be on its way to trial in Canada.

Propecia lawsuits in the U.S. are still limited to individual cases, though federal cases have been consolidated in the Eastern District of New York. State cases have also been centralized in Middlesex County, New Jersey.

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