Allowing the drug industry to supply information on prescription medicines direct to patients in Europe will have serious implications for health, according to health experts in New Zealand.
The warning comes as the European parliament is considering allowing the drug industry to have a greater role in providing information to patients, with no restriction on the type of media. New Zealand and the US are the only two developed countries that allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines.
Although opposition to the practice has led to a self-regulation system in New Zealand, advertising has become more widespread and proved extremely effective, the doctors said. For instance, intensive advertising of celcoxib and refecoxib on television, aimed at long-term use in the elderly, resulted in widespread prescribing, despite warnings of their cardiac risks.
According to the experts, the lesson from the New Zealand experience for Europe is clear: Allowing industry-funded objective information will serve only to manipulate consumer choices. It will not help consumers make better decisions about medicines but will increase the pharmaceuticalisation of health and will expose more of the population to new medicines at a time when long-term safety is unknown.
Direct-to-consumer advertising will also rapidly hike up drug costs with major implications for already stretched health budgets, all of which will be of net harm to the overall public health, they warned.