More than a third of elderly people with no history of heart disease are now taking Lipitor, Crestor or another powerful cholesterol drug, according to the findings of new research.
In a letter published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine on August 24, researchers tracks the use of a class of drugs known as statins among the elderly between 1999 to 2012, finding that individuals over the age of 79 have the highest rate of use for the popular cholesterol drugs.
Statins generate combined sales of more than $14.5 billion per year, and are increasingly used to block the body’s creation of cholesterol, which is a key contributor to coronary artery disease. Although the medications are widely prescribed and generally regarded as safe, they have been linked to potentially serious risks in recent years, including debilitating muscle damage, kidney problems and diabetes.
Researchers in this latest study looked specifically at those over the age of 79 who had no history of heart disease, since there is little evidence that drugs like Lipitor or Crestor provide benefits for those who have not had a heart attack or stroke by that age.
The study looked at a survey of more than 13,000 elderly in the U.S. in five rounds of surveys between 1999 and 2012. The study found that in 1999-2000, about nine percent of elderly people with no history of heart disease used statins. By 2012 that number had more than tripled, to 34%.
Much of that increase is likely due to doctor recommendations, according to the authors, and does not take into account new and controversial statin guidelines issued in 2013, which likely will push the numbers up further.
In 2013, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) issued new guidelines on the use of statins, which raised concerns about the potential “statinization” of America. The groups indicate that statins are the only drugs doctors should prescribe to lower cholesterol and call for doctors to toss out traditional cholesterol goal numbers, potentially keeping patients on the drugs permanently.
There have been a number of studies that have also shown that the cardiovascular disease risk calculators doctors use to determine which patients to put on cholesterol drug therapy may be in error and could result in millions of Americans taking the drugs unnecessarily for the rest of their lives.
Statin Diabetes Lawsuits
In February 2012, the FDA required the makers of Lipitor, Crestor and other statins to add new warnings about the potential impact of the medication on blood glucose levels. However, many critics have suggested that the warnings are not strong enough for certain medications, indicating that users and the medical community should be provided with more accurate information about the diabetes risks with Lipitor, Crestor and other statins.
Pfizer currently faces hundreds of Lipitor diabetes lawsuits filed by women throughout the United States, who allege that the drug maker knew or should have known about risks associated with their medication for years, but withheld diabetes warnings to avoid a negative impact on sales and growth of the blockbuster medication.
AstraZeneca also faces a number of Crestor lawsuits filed on behalf of former users of the cholesterol drug who were diagnosed with diabetes. Most of those cases are currently pending in California state court.