Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Killer on the Loose?

Is there a killer on the loose? Are the very meds that have helped so many now a threat?

Marcus Faulk of Louisville, Ala. also had a bad reaction to Advair or to Serevent, one of the two drugs it comprises. He started out on Serevent and "said that every time he took the medicine it made him feel worse," says his aunt, Annette Glanton. A few weeks after Faulk tried Advair, he collapsed on the floor of a relative's home, late on the night of Jan. 6, 2003. Just 20 years old, he was dead by the time the ambulance pulled up to the hospital, his Serevent inhaler still clutched in one hand.

Far be it for me to suggest a connection between a popular asthma medication and death . . . that is for the attorney’s to work out. But this article does raise questions about the safety, and more importantly, begs the question, is the medication over-prescribed?

Advair is the fourth-best-selling drug in the world, with $5.6 billion in sales, up 19% in 2005, and 21.1 million U.S. prescriptions. Many patients swear by it. It also is one of the most heavily advertised drugs:

And this is something else to consider.

the drug has moved far beyond a narrow audience of severe asthma patients to reach those with mild cases and nonasthmatics who simply have a bad bronchial cough

So how serious is this?

Now growing evidence suggests that a small percentage of patients--perhaps 4,000 people a year, by one doctor's estimate--may be dying because of Advair or its Serevent component.

Certainly 4,000 people sounds like a lot, but how does this look statistically?

The six-month study, when extrapolated, suggested one extra death for every 700 patients on Serevent for one year.

That would seem significant to me.

"A large number of patients are being treated uselessly," says Fernando Martinez, professor of pediatrics at the University of Arizona. "We have to target these medicines to those that need them. What's happening now is many patients get the combination straight away."

Are doctors over-prescribing or is this really a dangerous medication? The courts will decide.
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