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Popular cholesterol drug fails key test

March 31, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
More than four million people in the United States take the cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin. A new study is now suggesting that despite $5 billion in annual sales, the drugs may have no benefit.

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"I think these are not drugs of first resort, they are drugs of last resort. Until we see better evidence, buyer beware," said Dr. Steven Nissen, M.A.C.C.

Vytorin is a combination of the statin Zocor and the cholesterol lowering drug Zetia.

The study found that neither Vytorin or Zetia alone reduced fatty plaque in arteries anymore than the cheaper statin by itself. Such buildup of plaque is believed to play a key role in heart attacks and strokes.

"We know Zetia will lower cholesterol, but now there's no proof yet anyway that it makes a difference where it really counts lowering the risk for heart attacks, strokes and death," said Dr. Timothy Johnson, ABC medical contributor.

Some doctors charge that the aggressive advertising of the drugs led to their over-prescription.

Merck and Schering-Plough provided a taped response maintaining their drugs are effective.

"For many patients they will not be able to achieve their goals with statins alone," said Dr. Robert Spiegel, Schering-Plough.

The New England Journal of Medicine is recommending that until further studied, doctors should prescribe Vytorin and Zetia as a last resort.

As for patients currently on the medications the best advice is to check with your doctor.

Congress is investigating whether in an effort to protect profits, the drug manufacturers delayed releasing results of this study, which was completed in 2006.

 

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