Fosamax is part of a class of bone-building drugs called bisphosphonates. Bisphosphonates are used to treat osteoporosis and to help in treating certain types of cancer. They are used to help build bones, but they can have the reverse effect, causing osteonecrosis, most often of the jaw. Osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ) is death and rotting of the jawbone. Of all bisphosphonates, Fosamax has been linked to the highest incidence of ONJ.
ONJ is a painful and sometimes disfiguring condition. It is usually triggered by dental surgeries including routine extractions. Patients using Fosamax or other bisphosphonates should avoid dental procedures if at all possible. Symptoms of ONJ can include:
- Pain , burning, tingling or swelling of the jaw
- Numbness or the feeling of heaviness in the jaw
- Pain, swelling, and infection of the gums
- Poor healing of the gums
- Loosening of teeth
- Tooth loss
- Pain or numbness of the face
- Sores with exposed bone
Doctors at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center discovered a connection between bisphosphonates and osteonecrosis in 2004. Due to the publishing of these findings in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Merck, the manufacturer of Fosamax, issued a warning to health care professionals in September, 2004. That same month Vioxx, also made by Merck, was pulled from the market. Merck is facing thousands of lawsuits over the dangerous side effects of Vioxx.
Fosamax is the second highest selling drug manufactured by Merck, with $3.2 billion in sales last year. Waiting nearly a year after issuing the warning to health care professionals, and only after a request by the FDA, Merck added a warning to the Fosamax label in July, 2005. Some say this warning was too little too late, hidden deep within a 22 page document that is given to pharmacies.
A recent study found that since 2001, 120 users of an oral form of bisphosphonates developed incapacitating joint, bone, or muscle pain severe enough to render some patients bedridden and others requiring wheelchairs, walker or crutches.
Fosamax is a tablet form of bisphosphonates. It is normally used to treat or prevent osteoporosis. The stronger forms of bisphosphonates are usually given intravenously as part of chemotherapy for advanced cancers that have metastasized to the bone.
The defective drug Fosamax has been linked to a higher occurrence of ONJ than any other bisphosphonate. It stays in a person’s system for months or even years after discontinuing use. Patients are in danger of developing ONJ as long as the drug is in their system.