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Govt warned of dangers of direct Vioxx marketing

1 October, 2004

Govt warned last year of dangers of direct Vioxx marketing

Green MP Sue Kedgley today called on the Government to ban the direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of drugs in the wake of the worldwide withdrawal of the arthritis drug Vioxx.

Vioxx, which has been found to amplify the risk of heart attacks and strokes, has been heavily marketed in New Zealand for at least three years. Figures published in the National Business Review show that Vioxx was in the top twenty television advertising spenders at various times in 2001.

"The chorus of opposition to DTC drug advertising that warned it would lead to heavy promotion of unsafe and unnecessary pharmaceuticals has been proven correct," said Ms Kedgley, the Green Party's Health spokesperson.

"If DTC advertising had been banned three years ago then thousands of New Zealanders would not now be facing increased risks of cardiac problems - because most of them would not have been prescribed Vioxx by their GP.

"Vioxx has continued to be heavily marketed to New Zealanders this year, despite a grave warning in 2001 by the US Food and Drug Administration to Merck that its Vioxx advertising was 'false, lacking in fair balance, or otherwise misleading'.

"This followed intense debate in American medical circles over the safety of Vioxx and its apparent contribution to heightened risks of heart attacks.

"Then Professor Les Toops, in a 2003 study on DTC advertising, specifically warned the Government in a report to the Minister of Health, of the risks associated with Vioxx and the foolishness of advertising it.

"He pointed out that the manufacturers had consistently omitted from their advertising material the finding of significantly increased cardiac problems and a study showing a four to five-fold increase in heart attacks in those taking Vioxx.

"But the Government failed to act on his warnings. This is shocking. The risks were known at least three years ago, highlighted again last year, but the Government has continued to allow DTC marketing of a drug known to have serious safety concerns.

"The Government must take immediate action by banning DTC marketing of drugs and stop rolling over to the demands of the pharmaceutical industry," said Ms Kedgley.


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