Lawyers argue for class-action Fosamax suit, dental care for plaintiffs

NEW YORK Users of a Merck & Co. osteoporosis drug should be provided with a dental monitoring program, lawyers urged a federal judge on Friday.

Lawyers asked U.S. District Judge John Keenan to order the pharmaceutical company to provide a dental monitoring program for Fosamax users, whose jaws were reportedly damaged after using the osteoporosis drug.

The lawyers made the suggestion as they argued for the case to be certified as a class-action, in order to pursue claims by users who believe the drug caused osteonecrosis of the jaw, a condition in which portions of the jaw bone die, sometimes leaving the bone exposed.

Timothy O’Brien, a lawyer for plaintiffs, said many patients would benefit from the program that would include regular dental screenings, X-rays and lab tests, all aimed at preventing the need for dental surgery.

Paul Strain, a Merck attorney, called Fosamax a “life altering and life saving drug” that evades bone fractures that can expedite the deaths of people as they age, and also said there was no proven link between degeneration of the jawbone in some patients and Fosamax. Strain indicated that the drug was a pioneer 11 years ago.

Damage to the jawbone can result in many ways, including from the use of steroids, from diseases or weaknesses in the body and from poor dental hygiene, according to the Associated Press.

A study cited on April 4, 2006, by United Press International, found more than 2,400 patients who were taking the injected form of bisphosphonate had suffered bone damage to their jaws since 2001, and an additional 120 patients taking the oral form of the drug had been stricken. The American Association of Endodontists said that “while bisphosphonates [what Fosamax is made of] support the buildup of bone in areas weakened by disease, as a side effect of treatment, patients may experience the opposite in their lower and upper jawbones.”

O’Brien said as many as one in every 296 patients who uses Fosamax develops the severe damage to the jaw, though Merck disputed the figure. O’Brien said jaws were more susceptible to damage because they are used so frequently and are under greater stress than most bones.

Keenan did not immediately rule after hearing arguments.

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