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."


Contact Details

Professor Nigel Stocks
Head, Discipline of General Practice
School of Population Health
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 3462
Mobile: 0424 260 394