The crux of the matter: Did the ABC's Catalyst program change statin use in Australia?

Andrea L Schaffer, Nicholas A Buckley, Timothy A Dobbins, Emily Banks and Sallie-Anne Pearson
Med J Aust 2015; 202 (11): 591-594. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.00103


Objectives: To examine the impact of a two-part special edition of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's science journalism program Catalyst (titled Heart of the matter), aired in October 2013, that was critical of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (“statins”).

Design, setting and participants: Population-based interrupted time-series analysis of a 10% sample of Australian long-term concessional beneficiaries who were dispensed statins under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (about 51% of all people who were dispensed a statin between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2014); dispensing of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) was used as a comparator.

Main outcome measures: Change in weekly dispensings and discontinuation of use of statins and PPIs, adjusting for seasonal and long-term trends, overall and (for statins only) stratified by the use of cardiovascular and diabetes medicines.

Results: In our sample, 191 833 people were dispensed an average of 26 946 statins weekly. Following the Catalyst program, there was a 2.60% (95% CI, 1.40%–3.77%; P < 0.001) reduction in statin dispensing, equivalent to 14 005 fewer dispensings Australia-wide every week. Dispensing decreased by 6.03% (95% CI, 3.73%–8.28%; P < 0.001) for people not dispensed other cardiovascular and diabetes medicines and 1.94% (0.42%–3.45%; P = 0.01) for those dispensed diabetes medicines. In the week the Catalyst program aired, there was a 28.8% (95% CI, 15.4%–43.7%; P < 0.001) increase in discontinuation of statin use, which decayed by 9% per week. An estimated 28 784 additional Australians ceased statin treatment. Discontinuation occurred regardless of the use of other cardiovascular and diabetes medicines. There were no significant changes in PPI use after the Catalyst program.

Conclusions: Following airing of the Catalyst program, there was a temporary increase in discontinuation and a sustained decrease in overall statin dispensing. Up until 30 June 2014, there were 504 180 fewer dispensings of statins, and we estimate this to have affected 60 897 people.

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  • Andrea L Schaffer1
  • Nicholas A Buckley1
  • Timothy A Dobbins1
  • Emily Banks2
  • Sallie-Anne Pearson1

  • 1 University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.


This research is supported, in part, by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Health Services Research Capacity Building Grant (ID: 571926) and funding from the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Medicines and Ageing (ID: 1060407). Sallie-Anne Pearson is supported by a Cancer Institute New South Wales Career Development Fellowship (ID: 12/CDF/2-25) and is an Australian Health Policy Research Fellow. Andrea Schaffer and Emily Banks are supported by the NHMRC (IDs: 1074924 and 1042717, respectively). We thank the Department of Human Services for providing the data for this research.

Competing interests:

Emily Banks made statements in the media about the potential public health impact at the time of the program's airing. No other authors have relevant disclosures.


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