Why Did My Doc Recommend This New Drug?

According to the CDC (that’s the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a full three quarters of doctor’s office visits end up with the patient leaving with a prescription. The most common drugs here are painkillers, but also high on the list are drugs for depression and for high cholesterol. Altogether, that’s 2.6 billion prescriptions a year. Given the thousands of drugs available, and the dozens of new drugs coming out every year, how does your doctor decide what to recommend?

More than likely, your doctor has a cabinet full of samples, left behind by a friendly drug rep along with a stack of glossy brochures. There’s really only one good reason for you to be a lab rat. If you’ve given everything else an honest chance, and nothing has worked for you, then maybe the new drug therapy is right. But the sad truth is that for many drugs, the negative effects show up long after the positive ones. The quick “I feel better” or “My lab results look great” soon outweighs any concerns about potential side effects.

A classic example is the drug combination fen-phen, prescribed in the early ‘90s to promote weight loss. The combo helped people lose weight, sure enough. It wasn’t until much later that those same patients started showing up with a condition called primary pulmonary hypertension, in which the heart is damaged so badly that it can’t pump blood properly.

The litany of drugs that damage the heart is sobering: antihistamines, antibiotics, diabetes drugs, and more have been withdrawn from the market because of their potential to cripple or kill you. Now there are two new drugs in a novel class of cholesterol-lowering medications. An FDA panel has recommended approving these new drugs for use, even though we’re more than two years away from completing the main trials. There’s been little evaluation of cardiac risk.

Even if the full FDA goes ahead with approval, it will be a while before these new drugs—currently named Praluent and Repatha—are available to the public. Still, as soon as the OK is given, you can bet there will be hordes of drug reps touting the benefits of their products, even though the final trial results won’t be in. When your doc recommends one of these wonder drugs, your response should be, “Tell me more.”

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