PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY: Drug firms getting around ad ban
THE report, "Self-medication carries risks" (NST, April 10), tells of the importance of consulting doctors and pharmacists before using medicines.
Consumers nowadays are more involved in making decisions about their health. Besides obtaining information from health professionals, the public is also exposed to pharmaceutical promotions.
Globally, the pharmaceutical industry promotes medicines, including prescription drugs.
This practice raises considerable debate and regulatory issues in many countries. Although advertising of prescription medicines directly to consumers is illegal in Malaysia, the industry may skirt around the regulation by engaging in disease-awareness advertisements for medical conditions related to their products and encourage consumers to talk to their doctors.
Disease awareness advertisements appear in newspapers and magazines in Malaysia. While this practice does not directly promote a branded medicine, there is evidence that this advertising method may create unwanted fear, and initiate a greater dependence on medications to solve social or behavioural problems.
Malaysia is an example of a country where the drug industry self-regulates its promotions, underpinned by government legislation. Promotions of prescription medicines are self-regulated by the industry through the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA) code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices for Prescription (Ethical) Products.
The code prohibits the distribution of promotional materials that includes claims that may encourage consumers to ask for prescription medicines. However, this section permits patient education leaflets related to disease condition to be distributed to patients.
To help consumers, medicine information provided to them should be truthful, balanced and accurately communicated.
However, evidence from overseas shows otherwise. Information provided in direct-to-consumer advertising (DCTA) focuses more on benefits than risks, provides minimal education and does not provide information on exercise or diet.
Although the findings cannot be generalised to our country, we believe that there is an urgent need for impartial monitoring and research, which may provide data on such activities to regulators, policy makers and researchers.
The findings may reflect the effectiveness of the PhAMA code in controlling DTCA.