Too many patients, as documented in an on-line study of 12,000 individuals conducted by the American Thyroid Association published in June 2018, (https://doi.org/10.1089/thy.2017.0681) , complain of persistent symptoms of hypothyroidism despite what their doctors believe is successful treatment with levothyroxine (brands include Synthroid, Unithroid, Tirosent, Levoxl). We believe something needs to be done to resolve this conflict between patients and their doctors.
After 50 years of exemplary therapeutic use and despite a large devoted following, Armour Thyroid and related dessicated thyroid generics have virtually disappeared from pharmacies in the U.S. An air of mystery with suggestions of conspiracy surround the shortage. The level of distress among Armour users confronted by their inability to obtain the medication, is extraordinary. Adding to the turmoil and confusion is the manufacturers’ continued reliance on flimsy and unconvincing explanations for their actions.
Several concerned individuals contacted the FDA for clarification of the Armour situation and received a prepared statement in response. A copy of the FDA’s letter explaining the government’s stance was posted to metabolism.com by an involved member. After studying the letter I believe I can offer a good explanation for the situation. The explanation, as I see it, is grounded in the fact that several thyroid medications such as Armour Thyroid but also including synthetic t4 medications like Synthroid, existed before the FDA was given full regulatory power. In 1973 the Supreme Court empowered the FDA to regulate the use of prescription medications in the U.S.. This meant that all prescription drugs would have to demonstrate to the FDA’s satisfaction, safety and efficacy for specific indications before pharmaceutical companies could promote the use of their drugs. Medications like Synthroid and Armour, already vital components of medical therapy for years before 1973 entered a grey area of legitimacy after that time.
Just a few years ago, I was astounded to hear from my pharmaceutical representatives that Synthroid faced being banned by the FDA since it never provided the FDA with the type of documentation of safety and efficacy that all modern medications had. After 30 years the FDA decided it wanted to rescind the right of the drug manufacturer to promote this medication which was considered safe and effective way before the FDA achieved regulatory power. What followed was a tense year during which the manufacturer of Synthroid went through the costly and bureaucratically intricate process needed for FDA approval, which it ultimately won.
What I believe is happening now is a similar scenario with Armour Thyroid and other dessicated thyroid products. What convinced me of this is the wording in the FDA letter which refers to Armour Thyroid as an illegal drug. The FDA has put Armour on its Most Wanted List and is intimidating the manufacturer (and prescribing physicians) by implying the law is being broken by continuing to make and use this drug. In the case of Synthroid, which enjoys the full support by the medical community and provides millions of dollars in annual sales the financial equation was a “no-brainer” in favor of putting the money into the process to gain approval.
Not so for Armour Thyroid which has been defamed by the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and who’s use is much more limited and far less profitable to the manufacturer. I can imagine that the pharmaceutical company has already done the math and decided that not making Armour makes more financial sense that to continue making the “illegal” product and going through the FDA gauntlet for approval.
Where does that leave the patients who depend on dessicated thyroid preparations and the physicians who prescribe it? With no way to force the manufacturer to make the drug or to make the FDA to back down on its stance my guess is that Armour and related products will simply cease to exist and alternative prescriptions will have to be written. Please remember, I am the messenger here and do not sanction or in anyway condone what I see as the most likely outcome of this predicament. Perhaps by recognizing the existing reality a strategy can be developed to prevent this outcome.
Gary Pepper, M.D., Editor-in-Chief. Metabolism.com