Merck, maker of osteoporosis drug Fosamax, may have "seriously underreported" risks of jawbone death related to the drug, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. A class-action lawsuit has been filed claiming that Merck knew about the risk of jawbone death but hid it from the public.
Jawbone death related to the bisphosphonate class of drugs (to which Fosamax belongs), or Bisphosphonate-Related Osteonecrosis of the Jaw (BRONJ), is a serious side effect that destroys the bone in the jaw and is difficult to treat.
BRONJ was reported by oral surgeons, who noticed the condition among patients treated with intravenous forms of bisphosphonates, in 2003. A broader warning of BRONJ was issued for the entire class of drugs in 2005.
Fosamax is prescribed to about 10 million men and women — mostly postmenopausal women — each year to help increase bone density, with annual sales of $3 billion. Over 190 million prescriptions for oral bisphosphonate drugs have been dispensed worldwide.