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Treatment of depression may suffer -- NZMA


All Health Reporters/Chief Executives/Press Officers

FROM: Dr Pippa MacKay, NZMA Chairman

DATE: November 2, 1999

SUBJECT: Treatment of depression may suffer -- NZMA

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders with depression and anxiety disorders may suffer under a PHARMAC decision to cut subsidies for modern antidepressant drugs, the New Zealand Medical Association says.

"While we understand the need to contain costs, it should not be at the expense of patients (in this case, people suffering from a common mental illness which can be effectively treated with modern medications)," said NZMA Chairman, Dr Pippa MacKay.

PHARMAC intends to list a cheaper brand of fluoxetine (of which Prozac is currently the most popular brand on the market), and reduce the subsidy on a range of modern antidepressants to the same level. Part charges will be incurred if other suppliers do not reduce their prices to meet the new subsidy. Some may choose to withdraw their product from the market.

"This agreement may significantly disrupt access to the newer antidepressants which have considerably improved the treatment of depression and anxiety. It seems to contradict the HFA's strategic emphasis on improving mental health care by restricting access to appropriate and needed treatments," Dr MacKay said.

"These drugs are not identical, and have differing side-effects and levels of tolerability. The NZMA believes it is crucial clinically that a range of modern antidepressants from all classes continue to be available without part charge."

Depression and anxiety disorders are extremely common. A recent Christchurch study found a 20 percent lifetime risk of a clinically significant episode of depression. There is also a body of evidence to suggest that the effective treatment of depression is crucial to decreasing New Zealand's high suicide rate.

"In a problem of this magnitude, patients must have access to a range of effective modern treatments," Dr MacKay said. "This plan curtails patient and clinician choice, cuts across quality care and creates barriers to appropriate medications. We would urge PHARMAC to re-examine its plans to ensure that appropriate antidepressants are available to those who need them."


Shani Naylor

Communications Co-ordinator

New Zealand Medical Association

Ph 04 472 4741, 025 284 1081

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