Peeling back the label on cholesterol drugs | Reporting on Health

Interesting interview with John Carey who wrote a ground breaking article on cholesterol drugs that was published in BusinessWeek in 2008.

Q&A with John Carey: Peeling back the label on cholesterol drugs

By William Heisel

April 24, 2009

William Heisel

John Carey, a 20-year veteran at BusinessWeek, wrote a story that set the pharmaceutical world on its ear in January 2008. Titled “Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?,” the article systematically broke down the many myths behind the so-called “miracle cure” for heart disease: statins. Carey’s story won an award from the Association of Health Care Journalists at its conference in Seattle.

I reached Carey, 54, at his office in Washington, D.C. Here is a recap of our conversation, which has been edited for space and clarity.

Q: What prompted you to take a look at this?

A: A guy named Allen Roses who moved over to GlaxoSmithKline and who said in 2003 that the majority of drugs only work in a minority of patients. That percolated around and was always in the back of our minds to take a real in-depth look at drugs in general and how well they actually work. The media covers the safety questions really well, but very few people look at the efficacy questions. Most people think that drugs really work.

Q: And you had considered looking at other drugs first? Statins weren’t your first choice.

A: I had done some stories on heart surgery and angioplasty, which showed that in most of the cases the outcomes were no better than not doing the surgery. And a reader said you ought to look at NNT, number of people needed to treat, in order to show a benefit from the drug. So I did. And I was astounded. Those numbers are a lot higher than most people realize. And then we had the controversy over Avandia, the diabetes drug, in 2007, where there was a slight increase in heart attacks and mortality. I had already done a bunch of reporting that questioned the whole idea of what the drug was designed to do, which is keep your blood sugar in a tighter range. There was a very tortuous manipulation of the data to show any benefit at all. I had reams of scientific papers and critiques by the time the Avandia thing hit the news. I was convinced that all the stories were missing the major point. Who cares what the safety profile is, the real question is: does the drug do any good?

much more via Q&A with John Carey: Peeling back the label on cholesterol drugs | Reporting on Health.

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  1. 1 Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good? « Medical Skeptic

    […] May 8, 2010 in Disease mongering, Drugs, Statins, riskTags: NNT, statins Here is the introduction to the John Carey BusinessWeek article mentioned in my previous post. […]




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