Study reveals cholesterol drugs imbalance
Sunday, 29 February 2004
Thousands of Australian men who come from low socio-economic backgrounds may be missing out on potentially life-saving drugs that lower cholesterol because of their economic status, according to new research at the University of Adelaide.
A major study by the University's Department of General Practice and the Department of Public Health looked at all prescriptions of cholesterol-lowering drugs (known as "statins") over an eight-month period in 2002.
In total there were 9.1 million prescriptions of statins to Australians at a cost of $570 million.
The results of the study, being published in this week's Medical Journal of Australia, show discrepancies between different socio- economic groups and also between the sexes.
Study leader Dr Nigel Stocks from the Department of General Practice says the research found that:
- Australian men are more likely to receive prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering drugs if they are wealthy and well educated;
- Australian women in general receive more cholesterol-lowering drugs than men, despite being at lower risk of heart disease;
- Men from low socio-economic backgrounds were not receiving the same level of drug treatment, despite a need for it.
Dr Stocks says the results are the first of their kind in Australia, and raise further questions about access to potentially life-saving drugs and their cost to the health system.
"This study has been very important in showing us what the patterns are - now we need to find the reasons why and try to do something about them," Dr Stocks says.
"Are statins being over-prescribed to well-educated and wealthy men who perhaps don't need them, which means potential cost savings for the Government? Are they being under-prescribed to disadvantaged groups, such as Indigenous Australians, which could mean a potential extra cost for the Government of around $100 million a year?
"Because statins cost the Australian Government more than $800 million each year, and represent about 15% of the total Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the answers to these questions will be vitally important for Australia."
Head, Discipline of General Practice
School of Population Health
The University of Adelaide
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