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Healthy Skepticism International News

March 2003

Action on prescription drug promotion to the public



    An inspiring report

    A vexatious complaint

    An opportunity to limit drug promotion

    Our open letter

    Feedback please

    More information

An inspiring report
This months edition provides an opportunity to support efforts to limit prescription drug promotion to the public.  Our aim is to support New Zealand to ban Direct to Consumer Advertising (DTCA) for prescription only drugs.  If New Zealand is successful then that help other governments around the world to resist pressure to allow promotion to the public.  We have been inspired to act on this issue now by the following major report:

Les Toop, Dee Richards, Tony Dowell, Murray Tilyard, Tony Fraser, Bruce Arroll.
Direct to Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs in New Zealand: FOR HEALTH OR FOR PROFIT?
Report to the Minister of Health supporting the case for a ban on DTCA. (95 page PDF file)
New Zealand Departments of General Practice
Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland Schools of Medicine
February 2003

The main findings were:

  There is convincing evidence, supported by public and professional opinion, to justify a ban of direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription-only medicines in New Zealand.
  There is an urgent need for increased provision of comprehensive and readily accessible independent consumer information.

  That the New Zealand government introduce regulations and /or legislation to prohibit the advertising of prescription medicines directly to the public, through print and broadcast media or any other means.
  That the Government establishes an independent medicine and health information service free of commercial interest.

A vexatious complaint
One component of the FOR HEALTH OR PROFIT? report was a survey of New Zealand GPs. Mr. Glen Wiggs, Executive Director of the Advertising Standards Authority responded to that survey by making a formal complaint of research misconduct against Professors Toop, Tilyard and Dowell and there was a campaign of criticism in the public and medical media.

The complaints were examined by Professor Donald Evans who produced a 28 page report and concluded that “After examining the twenty three grounds of the complaint made by Mr. Wiggs against the Professors I found that none of them succeeded in justifying the complaint - indeed I noted that they fell very far short of so doing.” He also found the complaints to be “vexatious” against both the Professors and their Universities.

I have meet both Professors Toop and Tilyard and have been very impressed with their integrity and the quality of their work.  I have not met Professor Dowell but I note that he too has an impressive list of publications on Medline.

An opportunity to limit drug promotion
As an international organisation should support New Zealand as best we can against pressure from international corporations. We now invite all our supporters to support our New Zealand colleagues by using the open letter below as a basis to write to the following three key decision makers:

  Rt. Hon Helen Clark, Prime Minister, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand
  Fax is +64 44733579 email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

  Hon. Annette King, Minister of Health, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.
  Fax +64 4 495 8445, email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

  Dr Karen Poutasi, Director General, Ministry of Health, 133 Molesworth St, Wellington, New Zealand. Fax +64 4 496 2340, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

1. You can use e-mail or print the letter on your letterhead and use fax or airmail.
2. Feel welcome to modify the letter. Please ensure that you can justify anything you add. Please be polite. 

Writing your own letter will be more effective but if you don’t have time then just copying ours is likely to be much more helpful than doing nothing.

Please use the form below the letter to let us know what you decide to do. This is the first time we have worked this way so we are keen to have feedback.

Our open letter

Dear Prime Minister Helen Clark and Health Minister Annette King,

Please ban Direct-To-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Only Drugs.

Please provide world leadership by banning Direct-To-Consumer Advertising (DTCA).

DTCA wastes money via higher prices, increased use of drugs that provide less value for money, and diversion of funds from more cost effective therapies.

DTCA can damage health by distorting decision making towards whatever drugs happen to be new and more profitable at the time.

Companies who make money from DTCA have produced surveys that suggest that many people have positive subjective opinions about DTCA.  By contrast, there is no objective evidence of net benefit and there is objective evidence of harm.[1]  This suggests that the positive opinions are not based on complete information.

We note with concern that the advertising industry has resorted to vexatious personal attacks on internationally respected doctors including Professor Toop and his colleagues and fellow authors Professors Dowell and Tilyard.  The fact that the industry is not using valid arguments suggests they may not have any.

The best option is a complete ban on all forms of prescription drug promotion to the public including “disease awareness promotion” and public relations techniques such as use of groups that appear independent but are funded by a drug company.

It is better to meet the public’s need for information about therapies by funding independent sources because they can produce information at lower cost that is less biased, better targeted and more trusted.

By banning DTCA, New Zealand will lead by example to assist other countries to resist the pressure to allow DTCA and help ensure that commercial considerations do not take precedence over people’s health.

I am a supporter of Healthy Skepticism, an international organisation aiming to improve health by reducing harm from misleading drug promotion.

For more information about us or about DTCA please see or contact Dr Peter R Mansfield .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Yours sincerely,

[Please insert name, affiliation and address]


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