Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stopping prescription drug adverts

This week changes to the legislation on prescription medicines that could have seen US-style drug adverts coming in by the back door were blocked by MEPs in Strasbourg. The aim of the changes was to improve the quality and access to information about prescription drugs across Europe, while retaining the ban on direct to consumer advertising, but the result could have been the complete opposite.

If the European Parliament had agreed with the European Commission's
original proposals then we could have been seeing "information" about specific drugs in health related publications, which effectively could have meant adverts in magazines like Men's Health and certain sections of newspapers. We could have also seen doctors handing their patients entirely unverified and biased "information" sent to them from pharmaceutical companies. This proposal was backed by the centre-right at committee stage in the Parliament. I was an outspoken critic of this, as were my colleagues in the Socialists and Democrats group. The last thing we want is for our doctors and nurses to be acting as advertising agents for drug companies. Thankfully, minutes before appearing on a BBC debate with me, the centre-right Swedish MEP leading on the legislation changed his mind and left the Tories in the small minority of those supporting the dangerous proposal.

I was extremely disappointed to see this proposed legislation come from the European Commission. It followed over a decade of relentless lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry, keen to introduce something similar in Europe to the television adverts for prescription drugs seen in the USA. The industry pressure also reached some members of the Parliament, but fortunately most MEPs worked closely with consumer and patient groups to change the report from being industry focused to being patient focused. Now this legislation should help provide patients with accurate, reliable and impartial information about the drugs they take, rather than promotional material from pharmaceutical companies looking to increase their sales.

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