Cholesterol Buster; Drug That Cuts the Risk of a Heart Attack to Be Sold over the Counter

Article excerpt

Byline: BEEZY MARSH

A DRUG which could prevent thousands of people dying of a heart attack is to be put on sale over the counter.

Around 124,000 Britons die every year from heart disease - 60,000 from heart attacks.

Experts say the drug simvistatin - known by the brand name Zocor, and currently available only on prescription - can cut the risk of a heart attack by a third.

In an attempt to reduce the death toll from Britain's biggest killer, the Government is proposing to make the cholesterol-lowering drug more freely available.

Blocked arteries, caused by high levels of blood fats, are a major risk factor for heart attacks.

More than a million people are prescribed fat-lowering drugs called statins by their GP or heart specialist, but health ministers believe thousands of lives could be saved if more people had access to them.

Making the statin Zocor available without prescription in pharmacies is seen as the best way of reaching people who are currently at risk but not on the medication.

Many of them are middle aged and have weight problems which exacerbate levels of harmful fats circulating in their blood.

The reclassification of statins will offer greater responsibility to pharmacists, who expect to be able to hand out the pills by early next year.

But the proposal is already attracting controversy from some heart specialists, who fear that patients who choose to buy pills over the counter may be difficult to monitor for potential side effects.

Health Secretary Dr John Reid is to launch a six-week public consultation on Monday on the proposals by the Government's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

But the reclassification is widely expected to get the go-ahead.

One pharmacy source said: 'This is the final hurdle but the process of approval is already well down the line. …