One of the scariest things in the US is the cavalier attitude that people have towards drugs. There is this wide-spread conviction that guzzling pills is an acceptable response to pretty much everything. Free samples of pain-killers are distributed in coffee shops, TV commercials exhort people to "ask their doctor" about a new pill that will cure them of everything, "the purple pill" is advertised as an aesthetic object that should be desirable regardless of whether you have the disease it is supposed to cure, personal qualities such as shyness are declared "syndromes" that require medication, doctors are genuinely shocked to discover that a 34-year-old patient doesn't take any prescription or over-the-counter medication, people think it is weird not to have a medicine cabinet in one's house, medication that hasn't gone through a rigorous safety testing regularly appears on the market and causes harm to innumerable pill-lovers.
Canadians have been looking at this pill-popping insanity, and have decided that they want something like that, too. Well, not all Canadians, of course. Just the ones at Health Canada who have been working hard to dismantle the system of safety measures that should prevent untested, dangerous medication from flooding the market:
Health Canada is holding its third and final “technical consultation” on proposals to “modernize” regulations governing prescription drugs and medical devices. The closed-door meetings will take place this week in Ottawa (Jan. 19-21). The Canadian public is largely unaware of the proposed changes, let alone their profound implications. Health Canada is working behind the scenes with the drug industry and drug industry funded groups to lower the drug safety standards and speed new drugs to market, thereby increasing the likelihood that Canadians will be exposed to dangerous new drugs. The proposed technical changes to drug regulation are part of a broader plan to introduce new legislation based on risk management and a lower standard of safety which will replace the current Food and Drug Act, which has as its central aim the protection of public health. The precautionary principle will be scrapped and the burden of proof will be shifted. So, instead of the drug industry having to demonstrate their product is safe, new drugs will be presumed safe and harm will have to be proven.
If that weren't bad enough, there is also a concerted effort on the part of pharmaceutical companies to legalize the advertisement of prescription drugs to consumers. According to Arthur Schafer, the
Big Pharma is also lobbying hard for the abolition of current Canadian regulations prohibiting direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Experience from the United States and New Zealand -- so far the only two countries to permit DTC advertising -- demonstrates these ads are a highly successful tool for the industry to persuade people to "ask your doctor" for the latest and most expensive products. Tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on campaigns for drugs. Industry calls this "public education" but it's an education which invariably exaggerates benefits and downplays harms. If/when DTC drug advertising is approved in Canada, the costs to our health-care system will escalate dramatically. At the same time, deaths from prescription pharmaceuticals will become even more common, as will a range of serious side effects.
We have all seen how ridiculously low the standards for such advertisement are in the US. A drug appears on the market, we are flooded with commercials promising all kinds of benefits and mumbling over the side effects. Then another commercial appears, qualifying what was said in the first commercial. After a while, we hear that the drug has been pulled off the market and we can join a class-action suit against its makers. Now this mess is coming to Canada.
What a shame.