The alleged link between heartburn medications like Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid and serious kidney disease or failure continues to strengthen. An investigative report from Sacramento’s ABC affiliate has some of the latest information on claims as well as the pressures patients endured from their doctors to continue taking the medications.
The drugs in question belong to a class of medicine known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs. PPIs have served as the mainstay of those affected by frequent heartburn and acid reflux, and advertisements for them are all but expected during prime television viewing hours.
One claimant purported to have been on the drugs for over 10 years. “I remember him saying it, and then it being repeated after – don’t miss a dose,” she says. “Now that I look back, I wish I had missed a dose.”
Research indicates that somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of those taking PPIs shouldn’t be. Rather than tackling the main issue of diet and lifestyle changes, consumers have turned to medications to treat their symptoms. Seeing an opening in an incredibly lucrative market, drugmakers pounced.
Zantac was the go-to drug in this new gold rush. However, Zantac generally only made heartburn “better.” And that was all Prilosec-maker AstraZeneca had to know.
“What we saw was that when a patient visited his doctor and started talking about heartburn, he was prescribed Zantac,” says Tom McCourt, who used to market Prilosec. “The next time he went in, the doctor asked, ‘Is your heartburn better?’ The patient would be like, ‘Yeah, it’s better,’ and that would be the end of it. We needed to change the question to, ‘Do you still have heartburn?’ The goal had to be no heartburn.”
By changing doctors’ lines of questioning, they were opening patients up to another drug to treat something that could also have been remedied – in many situations – by having different foods during the week and exercising a bit. Yet the drugmakers continued to push. And, as the ABC investigation reports, aggressive marketing of PPIs continued even after the drugs topped a billion dollar market share.
Consumers should know – in no uncertain terms – that in most cases of heartburn and acid reflux, the medicinal treatment of their ailment is largely unnecessary and can be reversed with just a touch of self-discipline when it comes to diet and exercise. Contrary to what ads featuring barbeque, pizza, and overweight, out of shape, middle-aged media figures might tell them, their condition is most likely entirely in their own hands to resolve.
Is another large order of french fries really worth the possibility of kidney failure?