With the end of an era of a blockbuster drug, a national health emergency looms

Flag on the play: excessive celebration

Don’t look now, but we are one step closer to having everyone on Lipitor.

I don’t know about you, but I was nervous there for a while. I mean, what if every man, woman and child in the US…no, the world…didn’t take this remarkable health miracle?

But sadly, so many simply couldn’t afford it. And the insurance companies didn’t want to pay for it unless you really needed it.

But thankfully, all that silliness is just about over.

Finally, every single one of us will be able to afford it and can gulp it down…whether we need it or not (oh…and in case you didn’t know this…none of us need it).

So to what do we owe this great news?

In just days, we are about to witness the end of an era: Lipitor’s patent runs out.

And while that is a sad, sad day for Pfizer, it has doctors popping champagne and handing out cigars.

A month of paydays

Lipitor is no ordinary drug. It’s the Big Kahuna of statin drugs and the most successful prescription medication in history. If a drug makes $1 billion per year it’s considered a blockbuster. For 15 years, Lipitor has consistently made about $1 billion per MONTH.

But that oversized gravy train is about to shriek to a sudden halt when Pfizer’s Lipitor patent finally runs out and the price for generic Lipitor plummets from around $4 a day to about 25 cents a day, and possibly even less.

So the celebration is ON, because according to some docs, they claim that many of their patients have put off Lipitor use until the drug is affordable.

What those patients and most doctors don’t understand is that when millions of additional people begin using this drug, THAT is when we’re going to have a national health emergency on our hands.

Small benefit, large harm

Actually, there may be a brief delay before the cost of Lipitor takes a dive.

You see, Pfizer executives are not what you’d call “joyous” about letting go of their billion dollar baby. So according to a recent law suit, Pfizer and generic drug-maker Ranbaxy have conspired to keep the price of generic Lipitor at current levels until next spring.

An antitrust lawsuit is trying to break up the deal and force a December 1 price drop. But whether it occurs in December or May, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. Even with a much lower price tag, Lipitor still ends up a huge minus for consumers.

For those of you that don’t mind some science that interferes with dogma, advertisements and press releases:

When researchers in Norway examined 10 years of cholesterol and health records for more than 52,000 subjects, they found that women with high cholesterol had lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and death compared to women with low cholesterol. (Yes, you read that right. Hopefully your doctor did, too!)

Compare that with another study I told you about last year that followed more than 2 million subjects for six years. Women who used statins and were at high risk of heart disease reduced their risk of the disease by less than 3 percent, but statin use was associated with increased risk of developing cataracts, liver dysfunction, muscle damage, and acute kidney failure

What these two studies didn’t catch — but other recent studies have — is that statin use could also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, memory loss, and cognitive decline.

A couple of years ago I told you about a Business Week article that questioned the usefulness and safety of statins like Lipitor. Of course, Business Week isn’t exactly the New England Journal of Medicine, but it’s seriously mainstream and probably at least somewhat financially dependent on Big Pharma, so it was pretty surprising to find an honest assessment of statins.

Even more surprising, the article showed how Pfizer revealed the truth about the drug with this “fine print” quote from a Lipitor ad: “In a large clinical study, 3% of patients taking a sugar pill or placebo had a heart attack compared to 2% of patients taking Lipitor.”

That study lasted three and a half years, which means that when 100 people took the drug for that length of time, only a single heart attack was prevented.

In the same article, James M. Wright, M.D. (director of Therapeutics Initiative, a Canadian organization that reviews the effectiveness of drugs) put the truth of statins more bluntly: “Most people are taking something with no chance of benefit and a risk of harm.”

And THAT is what most M.D.s still don’t get.

They’ve been brainwashed by years of advertising, press releases, and designer pens — and they’ve bought the hype that Lipitor is some kind of miracle, which it clearly is not.

But when the cost drops to just a few cents per pill, you can bet that millions will give it a try. And when their health deteriorates they probably won’t have an inkling that their new problems are linked to the wonder drug they waited years to be able to afford.

“Pharmacies Say Pfizer Delayed & Fixed Price of Generic Lipitor” Maria Dinzeo, Court House News, 11/8/11, courthousenews.com

“Is the use of cholesterol in mortality risk algorithms in clinical guidelines valid? Ten years prospective data from the Norwegian HUNT 2 study” Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, Published online ahead of print 9/25/11, onlinelibrary.wiley.com

“Unintended Effects of Statins in Men and Women in England and Wales: Population Based cohort Study Using the OResearch Database” BMJ online, 5/20/10, bmj.com

“Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?” John Carey, Business Week, 1/17/08, businessweek.com

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