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Direct To Patient Advertising Under Scrutiny

Direct to patient advertising under the international spotlight

PHARMAC says it will be investigating and finding out more about the international action over direct to patient drug advertising being called by the new premier of British Columbia.

This mirrors similar concerns that have been voiced here by the Minister of Health Annette King to review laws on the advertising of prescription drugs.

The Canadian Premier, Ujjal Donanjh, says it is time to put science ahead of marketing. He says aggressive direct-to-patient marketing by pharmaceutical companies is one of the factors that is threatening to leave consumers unprotected from high prices and inappropriate treatment.

Ujjal Donanjh says British Columbia has had some success in putting science first through its therapeutic initiative where the comparative effectiveness and costs of similar drug is evaluated by medical scientists.

He says a project where pharmacists visit doctors to provide them with unbiased education about drugs and prescribing is also working well.

He is suggesting that both projects could be potential national solutions for Canada.

PHARMAC General Manager Wayne McNee says British Columbia has been going down a similar path to New Zealand in many methods of managing expenditure on medicines.

“And it is interesting that even Canada is concerned about direct to consumer advertising – even though it doesn’t allow the same open level of advertising that we do in New Zealand.”

New Zealand and the United States are the only two countries that allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription medicines.

Wayne McNee says that while New Zealand has experienced 14 breaches of the Medicines Act and new advertising guidelines in just three months, the United States is grappling with the same issue.

 In America, drug companies spent US$1.9 billion on advertising last year – and that is double the amount spent in 1997.

 US Food and Drug Administratrion has cited Glaxo Wellcome for improper advertising relating to the asthma treatment fluticasone propionate which is branded Flixotide in New Zealand. The company has been told to stop making misleading clinical superiority claims against another drug.

 American research shows that while direct to consumer advertising creates an awareness of certain products, consumers aren’t necessarily well informed. One third of the audience for direct-to-consumer advertising fails to read the small print. This is particularly prevalent among those over 60 years-old with more than half saying they don’t notice the small print.

Wayne McNee says PHARMAC has been urging caution on direct to consumer advertising in New Zealand.

“Every night on television we are seeing more and more expensive drug advertisements. They are there, because they work and companies can expand their markets by suggesting to us that we need their products. But we have to keep asking ourselves if we believe in a pill for every ill, and that as a community, we have the skills to self-diagnose.”


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