The Great Statin Scam

Television ads featuring heart inventor, Dr. Robert Jarvik, who, by the way, cannot row a skull and never practiced medicine, claims that Lipitor will lower heart attack risk by 36%. Now, who wouldn’t want that but let’s look at the fine print.

The fine print required says “in a large clinical study 3% of people taking a placebo had a heart attack and 2% of those taking Lipitor had a heart attack.”  Let’s do the math.

For every 100 people in the trial that lasted 3 l/2 years, 3 people on the placebo and 2 people on Lipitor had heart attacks. That is one less heart attack for every 100 people.

In other words, 100 people had to take Lipitor for 3 l/2 years to prevent one heart attack. What this really means is, 99 out of 100 people taking Lipitor received no benefit.

There is a little known statistic, “Number Needed To Treat,” (NNT) defined as the number of patients who need to be treated in order to prevent one bad outcome. In the case of Lipitor, 100 patients needed to be treated for 3 l/2 years to possibly eliminate one heart attack.

Let’s compare that number to today’s antibiotic treatment to eradicate ulcer causing H. pylori stomach bacteria. The Number Needed To Treat H. pylori is 1:1. That means if you give the antibiotic to 11 people, 10 will be cured.

Several recent scientific papers peg the NNT for statin medications at 250. That means 249 of 250 would receive no benefit. Dr. Jerome R. Hoffman, Professor of Clinical Medicine at UCLA asks:

“What if you put 250 people in a room and told them they would have to pay over $1,000 per year for a medicine they must take every day that might give them diarrhea and muscle pain and that 249 of those people would get no benefit, how many would take that?” Very, very few.                                 buy book 50x20 The Great Statin Scam

Marketing Over Medicine

Drug companies have a responsibility to their shareholders to make a profit. We need drug companies to develop new medicines; however, when they grossly overstate benefits and spend enormous dollars influencing physicians, it leads to potential corruption.

The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) 2004 guidelines lowered the targets for cholesterol treatment and recommended more Americans take statins. The panel that issued the guidelines was comprised of 9 experts, 8 of which had ties to the drug industry.

We physicians who speak out take great risks as medicine and government agencies do not like criticism. For example, Dr. Henry C. Barry of the Michigan State University College of Medicine recently stated, “The NCEP guideline and process went awry.”

Dr. Barry and 34 other experts sent a petition of protest to the National Institutes of Health  saying the evidence was weak and the panel biased because of its ties to the drug industry.

Dr. Rodney A. Hayward, Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School said, “current evidence supports ignoring LDL cholesterol altogether.”

In response, The National Cholesterol Education Program stated strongly, “Dr. Hayward should be held accountable in a court of law for doing things to kill people.”

We might expect this kind of harsh response from zealots and extremists but not from government agencies or scientists. If we spent just a fraction of the money we now do on cholesterol testing, cholesterol lowering drugs and doctors visits, on educating people about proper diet, exercise and weight loss, we’d be far healthier.

–Dr. Dwight Lundell

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