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Access To Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Extended

3 March 2002 Media Statement

Health Minister Annette King says thousands more New Zealanders will benefit from Pharmac’s decision to widen access to statin drugs, used to lower cholesterol levels.

From 1 April, Pharmac is lifting Special Authority restrictions on statins, and widening access to these drugs. Statins are already available fully funded, but are targeted through the use of Special Authority to those patients who are at high risk of heart disease. The Special Authority will be replaced with prescribing guidelines, which will increase the number of eligible people by more than 100,000, to around 300,000.

“Helping so many more people lower their cholesterol levels through the use of statins is consistent with the aims of the New Zealand Health Strategy, which lists reducing cardiovascular disease as a priority area,” Ms King said today during National Heart Foundation “BBQ Day”, which promotes barbecues as a source of healthy eating.

Statins lower cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. High cholesterol is a known risk factor in cardiovascular diseases, such as a heart attack. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, lack of exercise, high fat diets and obesity.

Ms King said current practice was for patients to modify their lifestyle to reduce cardiovascular risk, and treatment with statin drugs could be used in addition to this. Reducing risk factors had potential flow-on effects in lowering costs in other areas, including hospital care and more expensive drug and surgical therapies.

Pharmac’s decision comes as a result of an agreement with pharmaceutical supplier Merck Sharp and Dohme, and new prescribing guidelines developed with the National Heart Foundation and the Cardiac Society. The guidelines are designed to promote the prescribing of statins to those people who would most benefit from them.

Pharmac chief executive Wayne McNee said statins were proven to be very effective in reducing cholesterol levels, “so having wider access to them has the potential to produce significant long-term benefits for patients. Pharmac has worked hard to provide wider access to these drugs, and is extremely pleased to be able to make a decision that has such potential benefits.”

But Ms King and Mr McNee stressed that having access to drugs was only one part of the equation. “We would also encourage people to follow any advice their doctor might give them to lower cholesterol by changing their lifestyle, including regular exercise and a reduced fat diet.”

Ends

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