WASHINGTON — Has television advertising become increasing loud and demanding over the years? Does it regularly taunt you into feeling like less of a man, one in need of applying a prescription gel to your underarms in order to reclaim your virility? If so, pharmaceutical advertising campaigns may be suffering from “high-T,” or high testosterone.
After indicating that it would step up its risk monitoring of testosterone products in light of possible links to increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and death, the Food and Drug Administration is now weighing a recommendation from an expert panel that could sharply temper the multibillion-dollar testosterone drug industry.
“The whole idea is to try to rein in the inappropriate advertising and use of these drugs,” said one of the 19 experts on the 20-member panel that voted for the changes.
“It’s gotten to the point where I turn on the TV and I’m constantly bombarded by commercials complaining about my low libido and how I—a healthy man—need to undergo testosterone replacement therapy to get my groove back,” the 54-year-old doctor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine added. “Well, I’m not going to take it. I’m not in the mood, not tonight. I have a headache.”
The drugs, originally intended to treat men with serious medical conditions, are now prescribed to over two million American men, many of whom suffer nothing more than normal aging. The industry has seen a 65% increase in its sales from 2009 to 2013.
Philip Hoffsteader’s doctor prescribed testosterone therapy after Hoffsteader complained that of feeling “like a much younger man trapped in a 50-year-old’s body.” Hoffsteader is 63.
“Sure, my wife risks growing facial hair and my children risk early puberty if they are accidentally exposed to my AndroGel, but I’m a man,” said Hoffsteader, “I’m supposed to take unnecessary risks on behalf of my family.”
Men taking testosterone products also put themselves at an increased risk of prostate cancer and the development of “large or painful breasts.”
“Nothing makes me feel more masculine than sporting large breasts and regularly submitting to extra prostate exams,” says Bernie Thompson. Thompson went to his doctor seeking testosterone products after viewing a commercial for Eli Lilly’s Axiron, even though he had not noticed any symptoms of low-T.
Should the FDA follow the advice of the panel, as it typically does, the regulator might attempt to counteract overly aggressive drug advertising campaigns by upping the recommended amount of estrogen in the commercials.
Ideally, say medial experts, this would be done naturally—by promoting more women inside the industry—rather than pushing estrogen replacement therapy, as drug companies did for post-menopausal women before a randomized trial exposed the associated health risks.
“We’re preparing whole binders full of women, just in case it comes to that,” said a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group.