Patented drugs double the cost of fighting heart disease in France

Statins are an effective way to reduce cholesterol. [Taki Steve/Flickr]

French doctors prescribe more patented statins than their European counterparts. The country’s health service spends €1.2 billion on statins every year, double the budget of some European countries. EURACTIV France reports

Hypercholesterolemia is an illness that causes elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol”, in the blood. Along with obesity, diabetes and arterial hypertension, it constitutes one of the major risk factors for heart disease.

Between 35% and 40% of the adult population in Germany, France and the UK suffer from hypercholesterolemia. In Spain and Italy this figure is around 10%.

>> Read: Kidney function linked to cardiovascular health

Cutting hypercholesterolemia would have the knock-on effect of reducing deaths from heart disease. The most effective treatments often involve no medication, and a patient’s risk of developing the condition is greatly decreased by lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking, doing more exercise, reducing alcohol consumption and eating a better diet.

>>Read: WHO warns of burgeoning obesity crisis in Europe

An effective treatment

Doctors often prescribe statins, along with diet and exercise, to treat high levels of cholesterol. According to the French National Authority for Health (HAS), these drugs can cut cardiovascular disease resulting from high cholesterol by up to a quarter, and reduce by 10% the number of patients that die from cardiovascular events.

Statins are taken by 6.4 million patients in France, at an annual cost of €1.2 billion, and 8 million patients in the United Kingdom.

>> Read: Study recommends systematic prescription of statins to the elderly

The HAS believes that statins can bring health benefits even to patients at low risk of heart disease, but a recent Finnish study established a link between statins and diabetes. The study claimed that statins could increase a patient’s risk of developing diabetes from between 10% and 20% to up to 46%.

Smarter consumption, better value

Both European and American health regulators agree that the patented drug (rosuvastatin) and the generic version (simvastatine) are equally effective. But in France, rosuvaststin accounts for 30% of the total volume of prescriptions to patients with a high risk of heart disease.

In seven other European countries (Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Finland, Norway and Spain) this patented drug represents on average only 7.8% of the total prescription volume, whereas the generic drug simvastatin makes up 82.5% of the volume for the same demographic.

This consumption choice means that France spends twice as much on statins every day as some other European countries. By adopting the German model of prescription, the French health system could save €500 million each year.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer are by far the leading causes of death in the world, accounting for 60% of deaths.

Around four million people in Europe and 1.5 million in the European Union die each year from heart disease, according to the European Heart Network (EHN) and the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The commonest forms of heart disease are coronary diseases and strokes.

To reduce the number of deaths from heart disease, the European Union has decided to take action on the factors behind cardiovascular health in its 2014-2020 health programme.

French National Health Authority

French Social Security

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