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Spending on heart drugs growing fast, study says

Soaring amounts of money are being spent on drugs to prevent and treat conditions such as heart attacks and strokes in Canada, researchers say, with cardiac drugs now accounting for one in five of all prescriptions filled.

A study led by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences found spending on cardiovascular medications jumped 200 per cent between 1996 and 2006. Figures for 2006, the latest available, show total annual spending on heart drugs exceeded $5-billion, with statins used to lower cholesterol accounting for almost 40 per cent of the total.

"It's important for people to know that the use of heart medications in Canada is becoming more common and it is very costly to the health-care system," said lead investigator Cynthia Jackevicius.

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Dr. Jackevicius said there are several reasons why the use of cardiovascular drugs is spiralling up: Canada's population is aging; a greater proportion of people have an elevated risk for heart disease and stroke due to increased prevalence of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity; and inflation is bumping up drug prices.

"Those factors accounted for about two-thirds of this growth in the cost of heart medications," Dr. Jackevicius, a pharmacist and clinical epidemiologist at Western University of Health Sciences, said from Pomona, Calif.

The study, published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, also found an increased reliance in the past decade on newer, brand-name medications as opposed to cheaper generics, which accounted for almost a third of the growth in spending.

Dr. Jackevicius said the payout for heart drugs could be reduced if people adopted healthier lifestyles.

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