Some susceptible to statin side effects

Q. I was on Lipitor for a number of years and have severe muscle and nerve damage to the extent that I am in a power wheelchair. Do you think Lipitor could be to blame?

A. Statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Crestor (rosuvastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin) are linked to muscle pain, weakness and nerve damage. Most physicians have assumed that muscle problems are an extremely rare side effect. Many readers have experienced this problem, however. Here is one example:

“I’ve been taking Lipitor for years. Two months ago I stopped, since I suspected it was responsible for the major pain and weakness I am experiencing in the muscles of my arms, shoulders, hands and feet. I felt like a lump of spasmodic pain with extreme fatigue and brain fog.

“My doctors did not think Lipitor was the cause. Stopping the Lipitor banished the brain fog so I can think and remember things again. I am still plagued with pain, muscle spasms and weakness.”

New research (New England Journal of Medicine online, July 23, 2008) suggests that some people are highly susceptible to muscle-related complications from high-dose statins. This genetic vulnerability may affect up to one-fourth of the population. Others are unlikely to experience such problems.

Q. I seem to recall reading on your Web site about a reliable Canadian site from which to get less-expensive and legitimate prescription drugs. I am in the Part D “doughnut hole,” and a 90-day supply of my Actos is more than $500.

Can you direct me to that Canada information once again so I can get some much-needed help with my drug costs?

A. We did some checking and found that in the U.S., the diabetes drug Actos might run anywhere from $570 to $692 for a three-month supply. The same medicine in Canada could cost between $161 and $382. The savings are significant.

When people enter the dreaded doughnut hole in their Medicare Part D prescription plan, they have to pay 100 percent of the medication costs. Buying from Canada can be helpful, but caution is necessary. Some Web sites that claim to be Canadian are actually based elsewhere.

We are sending you our Guide to Saving Money on Medicine with guidelines for determining which online drugstores are legitimate Canadian pharmacies. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (59 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. CA-99, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Medicare participants who spend more than $4,050 out of pocket become eligible for catastrophic coverage. If you think your drug bills will be a lot more than that, you should probably continue buying your medicine in the U.S.

Q. Here in Hawaii, we call head lice “ukus.” We’ve had quite a problem with them this year, and I have found the medication costly and ineffective. I’m glad you wrote about Listerine, because I never would have thought to use it. We tried it, and it worked.

A. Many traditional lice treatments have lost effectiveness. The alcohol and other ingredients in Listerine may help kill lice. One mother described saturating the scalp with Listerine and covering the hair with a shower cap for two hours. She then combed out the dead lice.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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