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Recall alert: Merck recalls cholesterol drug combo Liptruzet

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Patients taking the Merck anti-cholesterol combo drug Liptruzet are in for an unpleasant surprise today, as the New Jersey pharmaceutical giant has recalled all lots of this product. The company says that it is recalling all lots of Liptruzet produced since May 2013 because defective packaging may allow air to leak into the product, compromising its effectiveness.

As this is a total recall, it will cause stock-outs at pharmacies. Indeed, any Liptruzet currently in patients' homes is also in defective packaging, although Merck's official statement instructs patients to continue to take any Liptruzet they currently have on hand. Cardiologists note that Liptruzet is a combination drug: it contains both atorvastatin, the active ingredient in Merck's product Lipitor, and Zetia, also known as ezetimibe. Because atorvastatin is available generically, substituting just this component of the drug for Liptruzet is a relatively inexpensive option for prescribing physicians. Another option is to prescribe the two parts of the combination drug (generic atorvastatin and Zetia) as two separate pills.

This is the second recall in less than one month for Merck, which recalled 743,360 doses of Gardasil on December 20, 2013, because of glass fragments inside the vials. The company has also been the subject of controversy due to its heavy financial involvement with many of the authors of the recently announced ACC / AHA statin recommendations. Some have also questioned physicians' reliance on anti-cholesterol drugs to treat and / or prevent cardiovascular disease, given the link between obesity and the liver dysfunction that can lead to high serum cholesterol levels.

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