Prescription drug ads contentious

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Transparency please . . . University of Otago research professor Pauline Norris, of Dunedin, wants a legislation change to provide clarity on the rules for the advertising of pharmaceutical drugs. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A Dunedin professor wants the advertising of new prescription drugs to be banned to reduce the impact of unknown side effects.

But the head of an organisation advocating the benefits of modern medicines in New Zealand disagrees, arguing new drugs on the market have been extensively reviewed for safety and efficacy.

University of Otago research professor Pauline Norris, of Dunedin, said legislation should ban the advertising of new prescription drugs because their range of side effects was unknown until they had been taken by millions of people.

The Medicines Act 1981 allows the advertising of prescription drugs.

If new legislation banned the advertising of a new prescription drugs, it would result in fewer people taking it, so any side effects would affect fewer people.

The advertising of prescription drugs was sparking difficult conversations between patients and doctors, she said.

She had talked to doctors across New Zealand and heard how patients were asking to be prescribed a certain drug after seeing it advertised.

“The doctors then need to spend time arguing with the person that it’s not what they need.”

An advertising agency working for a drug company had an agenda to sell more of its client’s product, so it overstated the positive outcomes of a drug rather than the negative side effects.

“I don’t think they should be the ones driving medicine use the public interest is to make sure people have the right medicines for their conditions.”

Medicines New Zealand general manager Graeme Jarvis, of Wellington, said under New Zealand law, only prescription medicines which had been extensively reviewed for safety and efficacy were approved by the Government’s regulator Medsafe, and could be advertised in New Zealand.

Any prescription medicines publicly funded by the Government’s procurement agency Pharmac also were extensively reviewed by a panel of doctors before being made available to the public.

Advertising was regulated under New Zealand law, and all advertising of prescription medicines was independently reviewed for regulatory compliance before being aired.

Patients were getting information on conditions and treatments from the internet.

“This information does not go through the same procedures or controls of standard advertising.

“The internet is now a prime source of poorly controlled medical information and actually creates issues for patients and doctors alike.”

New Zealand had poor access to modern medicines and was behind 20 other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for access to publicly funded modern medicines, in terms of time delays and the types of publicly-funded medicines.

“This lack of access had in part given rise to issues we now see with poorer health outcomes for patients with cancer, rare disorders and arthritis, compared to other developed countries.”