Study shows Americans prefer OTC cholesterol drug over prescription

WASHINGTON According to data released by the National Consumers League Wednesday, Americans with unhealthy cholesterol levels would still be more likely to consider taking an over-the-counter statin option than a prescription product, although the likelihood to purchase an OTC has decreased since the subject was debated in 2005.

Overall, 82 percent of those surveyed responded that an OTC statin would be preferable to a prescription statin. For those respondents who say they are more likely to consider taking the OTC product than an Rx product, the OTC is more appealing largely because of convenience factors.

The general opinion among consumers is that OTC statins would be viewed as safer, more natural, more suitable for someone who takes charge of his or her health, and less likely to cause side effects than Rx statins, despite the fact that those OTC statins would in fact be lower-dose versions of those same Rx statins.

Those who prefer the Rx option have a greater trust in the product and the fact that a doctor prescribed it. The Rx version is generally viewed by at-risk respondents as more effective, more reliable, more trustworthy and more suitable for someone in poor health than is an OTC statin.

Those most inclined to use the OTC statin include individuals with greater levels of concern about cholesterol, those with higher known cholesterol levels, and those who take vitamins or supplements on a daily basis. As many as 98 percent of those who reported being most concerned about their cholesterol indicated that the OTC product would be appropriate for someone with health care needs much like their own. And 94 percent of all respondents reported that the OTC product would be appropriate for someone who takes charge of his or her health.

Appropriately self-selecting was one of the key factors that scuttled the last Mevacor switch application in 2005. Merck is supposed to be updating its customer-usage surveys with better self-selection data to be presented before a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee meeting on Thursday.

The survey also found that people want to know more about OTC statins, and in fact, are more than three times as likely to seek out additional information about the OTC statin than the Rx statin (79 percent vs. 21 percent). They were also much more likely to discuss the OTC product than the Rx product with their doctor (64 percent vs. 36 percent).

Although the survey revealed a strong preference for the OTC option, it found a decline since 2004 in respondents who said they were very or extremely likely to use an OTC statin, from 20 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2007, a fact that may reinforce Merck’s updated self-selection usage studies.

“For the more than 100 million Americans who have high cholesterol, the challenge of keeping the bad number low and the good number high is a very real one,” stated Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “In this atmosphere of increasing availability of medications without prescriptions, the introduction of an OTC statin could expand the total number of people getting treated for high cholesterol. Are consumers interested in an OTC statin option? According to our survey, they are.”

The survey was commissioned by NCL and conducted by Harris Interactive between Oct. 25 and Nov. 5. A total of 710 adult Americans at known moderate risk for high cholesterol participated.

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