French senator calls for new inquiry into Levothyrox

Levothyrox tablets cause controversy in France
Senator Laurence Cohen has called on the government to reconsider the issue of Levothyrox

A French senator has called for a new inquiry into the ongoing Levothyrox thyroid medication scandal to get “a real view of the situation”.

Laurence Cohen, vice-president of the commission for social affairs in the French Senate and senator for Val-de-Marne (Ile-de-France), has called on parliament to reconsider the Levothyrox debacle in its agenda for the Rentrée.

Her call comes soon after a report on the improvement of medical information - ordered after the Levothyrox scandal - was submitted to the health minister this week.

She said: “I demand that an inquiry mission - or at least, some [more] information - on Levothyrox, be brought to the Senate.”

Controversy still surrounds the drug, which is relied upon by over three million people in France to help manage thyroid conditions. These can cause fatigue, hair loss, muscle pain, cramps, depression, brain fog, memory loss, weight gain or loss, dizziness, and even cancer.

In 2017, problems arose when a “new formula” of the medicine allegedly did not work as effectively as the previous one, with many patients reporting a return in symptoms including thyroid cancers and other serious issues.

In September 2017, health minister Agnès Buzyn was forced to make the old formula available pending investigation, and almost half of the 130,000 boxes sold out within two days.

A helpline was set up for worried patients, and Chantal L'Hoir, founder of the French patient association AFMT (Association Française des Malades de la Thyroide), said at the time that people “were facing a major crisis”.

Since then, however, manufacturer Merck has maintained that the new formula is just as effective as the previous one, and is - in terms of its active ingredients - almost identical to the old drug.

Similarly, French medical safety authority Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament et des Produits de Santé (ANSM) has repeatedly said that according to its own independent analysis of the drug, it is “of good quality”, effective, and “stable”.

It has not yet ventured an explanation into why patients are experiencing a return of their symptoms on the new drug.

And, despite claims from patient groups that the drug does not work, Merck has now received the green light to launch the new formula in 21 EU countries from 2019.

Ms Cohen said: “Of course, ANSM assures us that things are in order, and just as well; but there are also other [worrying] aspects coming to light, and the suffering of patients is definitely there. That is why we need a real bird’s eye view of the situation.

“The issue is serious enough for us to continue looking into it. People are not complaining for nothing. We will all work even harder to understand [what is happening].”

There are currently five thyroid medications in France, although Levothyrox has traditionally been the most common.

Patient associations continue to demand the permanent return of the old formula.

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