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Public Health Doctors Support Ban On Advertising

Media Release
20 February 2003

University Public Health Doctors Support Call For Ban On Advertising Prescription Drugs

Aside from the United States, New Zealand is the only developed country that permits the direct advertising of prescription drugs to consumers. This, among other concerns, has prompted a group of senior academic Public Health doctors from the four New Zealand medical schools to come out in support of a report delivered to the Minister of Health, Annette King, calling for a ban on advertising prescription drugs to the public.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Doctors Ann Richards and Cheryl Brunton from the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said that the report brought together a compelling case for the banning of direct-to-consumer-advertising (DTCA) and its replacement by an independent information service.

“Our group has long had misgivings about DTCA, in particular the projection into the public arena of misleading information about medicines, their safety and efficacy, the pressure placed on health budgets by the unjustified expansion of drug treatment, and the undermining of existing regulatory systems by commercial imperatives. Aside from the United States, New Zealand is the only developed country that permits this.”

A fundamental requirement of decision-making in public health is that it is evidence-based. Few if any DTC advertisements conform to the most basic requirements of providing consumers with unbiased and discerning information on treatment. This, in turn, has an impact on the work of family doctors. Professor Rod Jackson, of Auckland Medical School's Department of Community Health adds:

“Prescribing decisions need to be based on a critical assessment of the evidence and cost-effectiveness, and advertisements are not designed to assist consumers in this regard - even if they had the skills in critical appraisal or the assessment of opportunity costs in a publicly-funded system, which very few do.”

Another area of concern is that of possible safety implications when new, relatively untried, drugs are promoted to the public ahead of established medicines, with no objective evidence of therapeutic advantage. New Zealand has a unique system for monitoring the unwanted effects of drugs, but patient safety can be compromised by the inappropriate marketing of medicines. Professor David Skegg, from the Otago Medical School in Dunedin where the monitoring centre is located, stated:

"Recently a preparation that may be suitable for women with severe acne was advertised in women's magazines, almost as if it was a cosmetic - with the promise that this hormonal contraceptive would 'restore the natural balance of your skin'. A significant number of women have suffered from severe blood clots caused by this medicine."

Professor Alistair Woodward of the Wellington Medical School has recently completed a term as chair of the National Health Committee, which has special responsibility for considering the strategic direction of health policy and priority setting in health care. He believes that an independent information service would be a very positive step. Such a service would contribute to a better-informed public and raise awareness of alternative and complementary treatments. It could also play an important part in ensuring all groups in the New Zealand population have access to effective care.

As a group, the public health academics endorse the report as a searching and long-overdue assessment of DTCA in New Zealand. Particularly disturbing is the evidence from the survey of general practitioners accompanying the report of great discontent among family doctors about the impact of DTCA on the quality of their work.


The signatories to this release are:
Professor Rod Jackson (Auckland School of Medicine),
Professor Alistair Woodward (Wellington School of Medicine),
Professor David Skegg (Otago, Dunedin School of Medicine), and
Doctors Cheryl Brunton and Ann Richardson (Christchurch School of Medicine).

They are urging the Minister of Health to heed the call for an end to the advertising of prescription medicines directly to the public and its replacement by an independent consumer health information service.

The 100 page report has being sent to all media outlets, and can be accessed from www.chmeds.ac.nz.

© Scoop Media

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