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NZMA supports prescription-only simvastatin

Friday, 21 May 2004

NZMA supports prescription-only simvastatin

The New Zealand Medical Association is strongly opposed to the cholesterol-lowering medication simvastatin being sold over-the-counter by pharmacists.

Currently simvastatin is available only by prescription, and the NZMA believes that for patient safety reasons it should remain that way.

“Lowering your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks is not simply a matter of popping pills,” said NZMA Chairman Dr Tricia Briscoe. “It is important to have a full physical examination and proper diagnosis. Only doctors have the training to do this comprehensively. Pharmacists do not.

“Prescribing a statin is only one part of the potential care offered by a doctor. Other aspects include education and lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise. There may be other medical problems, such as high blood pressure, that need treating.

Dr Briscoe said research showed that for some people the benefits of taking statins can be low or even non-existent. “If simvastatin is sold over-the-counter in pharmacies, the likely outcome is that many people will spend a lot of money to buy a drug they do not need. Other people may miss out on the subsidies they are entitled to.

“Statins can also cause a range of worrying side effects, including dizziness, muscle pains, weakness, headache and abnormalities of liver function. “Statins are an important medicine in the prevention of coronary heart disease and heart attacks, but it is vital that the right people take them. Doctors are medically trained to prescribe statins appropriately,” Dr Briscoe said.

NZMA will be advocating to the Ministry of Health that simvastatin should remain a prescription-only medicine.


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