Should you be able to get a free statin pill for your cholesterol when you order that big, fat cheeseburger and fries at Mickey D's or some other fast food joint?
Absolutely, say British researchers. Statins are safe, cheap -- why, the fast food giants could give them away free, like they do ketchup packets for your fries, to help protect customers' heart health, they wrote.
The British idea, presented in a paper last year from Imperial College London, surfaced again when it was reported this week that drugmaker Pfizer hopes to offer an over-the-counter version of its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor.
Lipitor, a statin, loses its patent protection in November and Pfizer sees a nonprescription version as a way to recoup some of the $11 billion in annual revenue the drug has generated for the company. That is, if the Food and Drug Administration approves.
Convincing the FDA to approve an over-the-counter version won't be easy, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story. Other drugmakers have failed, including Merck, which has tried three times to win federal approval for an OTC version of its statin drug, Mevacor. The government has worried in the past that some people who did not need statins would take them (in rare cases, statins can cause liver or kidney problems), or that those at increased risk of heart problems might take the drug and forego seeing a doctor.
The British researchers see things differently. Low-dose statins in the U.K. are already available without a prescription in pharmacies. The researchers want to push that further, saying fast food outlets should provide the drugs free so that customers could neutralize the heart disease dangers of eating fatty food.
They calculated that the benefit of taking statins would cancel out the increased risk of a heart attack from eating a quarter-pounder with cheese and a small milkshake. They called it a sensible precaution -- like putting on your seat belt before you drive, a cardiologist wrote.
For the record, McDonald's was not amused. "It would not be appropriate or safe for any restaurant chain to offer medication of any kind to its customers," a spokesman told New Scientist.
Whether or not you'll be able to get generic Lipitor at the drive-up window any time soon, the news that several expensive prescription drugs are expected to go off patent this year and next is good news for older Americans' budgets.
Among those joining the generic ranks in 2012: Plavix (blood clots), Clarinex (allergies), Lexapro (depression), Singulair (asthma, allergies) and Avandia (diabetes).
Photo credit: Rex Roof via flickr.com