The Bogeyman Series: Don’t Let the NY Times Scare You Off Important Medication

Duff Wilson of the New York Times should be ashamed of himself. His March 30 article, “Risks Seen in Cholesterol Drug Use in Healthy People,” is a shameless piece of hysteria masquerading as journalism. It’s yet another case of an experienced reporter either being too lazy to do his job, or spewing his or the Times’ bias against pharmaceutical companies.

sleeping reporters



I say it’s the latter. Mr. Wilson is an investigative reporter. Guys like him don’t get lazy.

Worse, his irresponsible bias may scare away people who will benefit from this drug.

The Truth Hurts

I’ve written before about statins – drugs that significantly improve cardiovascular health, and have saved thousands of lives. One such drug includes Crestor, the same drug cited in Mr. Wilson’s screed. Let’s just review what the JUPITER study found for those who took Crestor.

  1. 54% reduction in heart attacks

  2. 48% reduction in stroke

  3. 46% reduction in the need for angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery

  4. 20% reduction in all cause mortality compared with participants that received placebo.

  5. Levels of US-CRP were reduced by 37%

  6. LDL cholesterol levels were reduced by 50%


Chasing Away the Bogeyman

So let’s hammer Mr. Wilson now with the facts:

His most outrageous inclusion is:
Critics said the claim of cutting heart disease risk in half — repeated in news reports nationwide — may have misled some doctors and consumers because the patients were so healthy that they had little risk to begin with.

This isn’t about treating everyone. The average age of study patients was 66, not young kids.

statistics

Moreover, Mr. Wilson has no clue how to interpret statistics. He can’t do math, and this results in downplaying the thousands of lives that will be saved from the expanded use of Crestor. He claims that the 54% reduction in heart attacks, “translates to only 0.2 percentage points in absolute terms — or 2 people out of 1,000…stroke numbers were similar.”

Let’s see what this really translates to for the 6.5 million people who are estimated to begin taking Crestor. Here’s a chart of the number of cardiovascular events for that population for those given placebo, and those given Crestor.
































Event Placebo Crestor Lives saved
Heart Attack

18850



8450



10400


Stroke

17172



9091



8081


Unstable Angina

38889



20707



18182


All Cause Death

63131



50505



12626



Total lives improved per 6.5 million Crestor users = 49,289

So this crap about “vanishingly small benefits” from taking statins, and the idiotic quote from Dr. Steven W. Seiden that “It just turns a lot of healthy people into patients and commits them to a lifetime of medication,” is exactly that – crap.

Even worse, it’s just plain irresponsible. We’re talking 50,000 lives here. Dr. Benjamin Ansell, MD FACC, Assoc Prof of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, who just happens to be a cardiovascular expert, agrees:
This is sensationalism, not journalism… This story will harm people who should be taking these life-saving drugs, but will now be scared to do so.

Boo!



We see these scare tactics twice more in the article. First is the mention that “Some patients have long complained of muscle aches from taking statins.” Well, duh. It’s a stated side effect, but those aches go away. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say about this: “Muscle pain is experienced by up to nine percent of the patients who take statins. Such pain appears during the first several weeks or months. In most cases, the pain is transient, lasting only a few weeks despite continued drug use.”

But Bogeyman Wilson isn’t done. His big scare is that “recently published evidence indicates that statins could raise a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 9 percent.”

Not exactly. The research paper actually says, “Statin therapy is associated with a slightly increased risk of development of diabetes, but the risk is low both in absolute terms and when compared with the reduction in coronary events. Clinical practice in patients with moderate or high cardiovascular risk or existing cardiovascular disease should not change.”

Dr. Ansell concurs. “The increase in the diagnosis of diabetes was not an adjudicated endpoint and was only slightly against Crestor - statistically but not clinically significant.”

Conclusion



This is journalism at its worst. People’s lives can actually be saved and improved here, but if you happen to be an anti-pharamceutical reporter or editor, what difference does it make? Today’s “journalism” is just fear-mongering in an attempt to boost sagging circulation.

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