Generic Cholesterol Drugs Vital To Helping Consumers, Nation Lower Health-Care Costs

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As the maker of Lipitor reportedly urges doctors to carefully consider prescribing generics to lower cholesterol, Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs reminds consumers that generic statins are as effective as high-priced brands for most people who need a statin drug, and can help consumers save more than $1,000 a year.

"The three generics available to lower cholesterol and help prevent heart attacks can save consumers significant amounts of money, and that is critical for those patients who have trouble paying for their medicines,"said Gail Shearer, director of Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, "A person is much more likely to continue taking a needed medicine if they can afford it."

"Generic statins are becoming increasingly less expensive over time," Shearer said. "Every person with high cholesterol or who is at elevated risk of heart attack or stroke should discuss generic statins with their physician, and determine which drug is best for their condition."

Recent news reports say that Pfizer, the maker of Lipitor, has been sending letters to doctors to slow the tide of patients switching from that drug to one of the three generic statins. In particular, Lipitor is competing with two new generics -- pravastatin and simvastatin -- that came onto the market late last year. The generics are versions of Pravachol and Zocor, respectively.

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Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs selects lovastatin, pravastatin and simvastatin as "Best Buys" for most types of cholesterol reduction. Lovastatin and pravastatin are recommended if "bad" cholesterol, or LDL, needs to be reduced by less than 30 percent. Simvastatin is recommended if LDL reduction of 30 percent or greater is needed and/or the patient has had a heart attack or diabetes; or if the patient has had a heart attack and their LDL level is not highly elevated.

Lipitor is a recommended "Best Buy" for a select group of patients -- those who have had a heart attack or have acute coronary syndrome with a highly elevated LDL level. Consumer Reports recommends using the drug for two years and then reconfirming the need or switching to simvastatin after consulting with a physician.

A February analysis of the statin market by CR Best Buy Drugs found that despite the introduction of new generics, the brand-names retained a significant share of all statin prescriptions -- 71 percent. Lipitor alone accounted for an average 43 percent of all statin prescriptions in the latter half of 2006.

The analysis found that statin prescriptions rose by an average of 500,000 a month between October 2005 and December 2006. The increase was enhanced by the availability of the two generics.

By December 2006, simvastatin had garnered 2.5 million prescriptions -- 200,000 to 300,000 more than Zocor was averaging per month prior to its patent expiration.

Pravastatin prescriptions averaged 611,000 a month in the second half of 2006, and by December had reached 631,000. Pravachol prescriptions fell from an average 743,000 per month between October 2005 and May 2006, to 133,000 in December 2006.

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