An article in USA Today reports Merck next month will make its second try for approval to sell cholesterol drug Mevacor without a prescription.
"I think it is a very bad idea," says Brian Strom, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Over-the-counter drugs are meant for short-term conditions that patients can diagnose themselves, he says. "High cholesterol has none of those things."
Mevacor (lovastatin) is one of the "statins." These medications are effective in lowering cholesterol and the risk of coronary artery disease. However, these medications do have potentially serious side effects. They can cause liver damage; liver enzymes should be periodically monitored in patients taking them. The statins can also cause muscle pain and muscle breakdown. In severe cases (rhabdomyolysis), the muscle breakdown can lead to kidney failure. The statins should only be taken under a doctor's supervision.
If Merck suceeds in marketing Mevacor over-the-counter, they deserved to be sued into oblivion for any side effects that consumers suffer from taking this medication. You would think that Merck would be more cautious after the withdrawal of their medication Vioxx.
A bonus tip for any residents reading this: It is well known that combining statins with fibrates increases the risk of liver enzyme elevation and myopathy. Yet this combination is sometimes necessary in patients with combined increased LDL/increased triglycerides. Tricor (fenofibrate) is slightly safer in combination with statins than Lopid (gemfibrozil).