Statin drugs are now the number one most prescribed drugs in the world. But their dangers are not reported on the front pages, and doctors don’t mention them to patients as they prescribe them.
Pfizer, maker of Lipitor, the number one statin, is constantly seeking new and creative ways to promote the drug. The latest is The Boomer Coalition, which sounds like a grass roots group of health activists, but it is actually a creation of Pfizer.
The best advertising for statin drugs is free front-page coverage following gushy press releases. But not everyone reads the paper or goes in for regular medical exams, so statin manufacturers pay big money for creative ways to create new users.
The Coalition supported ABC’s Academy Awards telecast in March of 2004 with a 30-second spot flashing nostalgic images of celebrities lost to cardiovascular disease–actor James Coburn, baseball star Don Drysdale and comedian Redd Foxx.
“We’re always looking for creative ways to break through what we’ve found to be a lack of awareness and action,” says Michal Fishman, a Pfizer spokeswoman. The Boomer Coalition Web site allows visitors to “sign up and take responsibility for your heart health,” by providing a user name, age, e-mail address and blood pressure and cholesterol level.
But researcher Dr. Beatrice Golomb warns CBS News that the studies generating the bulk of the positive press were funded by the companies that make the drugs, like Pfizer, which earns $9 billion a year from Lipitor. Many side effects, like elevated liver enzymes and muscle wasting, are not listed in the patient brochures handed out by doctors.
Golomb says statins do help the heart, but may also hamper the brain’s performance and trigger other serious problems. She’s leading an independent clinical trial to find out what harm statins may be doing. The results should be out in a few months.
What articles don’t point out, says The Weston A. Price Foundation,
is that all of the major statin studies, EXCEL, ALLHAT, ASCOT, MIRACL or PROSPER, that showed that there is no benefit–and the potential for great harm–from taking statin drugs.
The most common side effect is muscle pain and weakness, a condition called rhabdomyolysis, most likely due to the depletion of Co-Q10, a nutrient that supports muscle function.
Dr. Andrew G. Bodnar, senior vice president for strategy and medical and external affairs at Bristol Meyer Squibb, makers of Pravacol, noted that in the same study, and 30 percent discontinued Lipitor after two years due to adverse events or other reasons.
Other side effects:
– Polyneuropathy, also known as peripheral neuropathy, is characterized by weakness, tingling and pain in the hands and feet as well as difficulty walking. Taking statins for one year raised the risk of nerve damage by about 15 percent