There have been some alarming headlines going around the right-wing media landscape, warning that drugs used to prevent puberty in trans children — like Lupron — have resulted in “thousands” of adult deaths.
The numbers are accurate. But the way they’re being used is a distortion of the facts.
Outlets like The Daily Wire, The Christian Post, and LifeSite News have released articles proclaiming the dangers of puberty blockers based on data from the FDA Adverse Effect Reporting System (FAERS). These stories were reposted on Facebook by influential conservative talking heads Ben Shapiro, Michael Knowles, and Matt Walsh, and they went viral.
But what those posts don’t tell you is that the FDA is careful to warn users of its limitations as a tool for drawing conclusions about the safety of a given medication. Duplicate reports, inaccuracies, lack of medical verification, and rampant confounding factors all make it impossible to draw conclusions based on the out-of-context numbers displayed in the FAERS database.
Dr. Joshua Safer, inaugural president of the United States Professional Association for Transgender Health (USPATH) and member in good standing of the global Endocrine Society, questions these conservatives’ methodology:
I think all [the reporters] did is went into the FDA database and looked at reports. There’s no study here, that’s just a big smorgasbord of reports and so the problem with that is you don’t even know that those deaths are connected to the agent they are reported to be connected to.
So what’s really happening here? Why are so many Lupron users dying?
These hand-wringing articles, aimed at social conservatives and the Religious Right, obscure the reality that these medications are also used for other applications. One major medical use of hormone blockers? To halt the progression of prostate cancer.
In other words, Lupron isn’t just used for children seeking to delay puberty; it’s also used in patients battling a potentially deadly illness. And some of those patients, despite doctors’ best efforts, are going to die, inflating the number of deaths associated with the hormone-blocking treatment. Safer believes that’s the reason the numbers look so alarming.
But if you present Lupron and other hormone blockers primarily as drugs used to suppress puberty in trans children, it’s much easier to feed into anti-trans ideas that have gained currency in our culture as trans and non-binary people become more visible in society.
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