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the pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to conquer Europe

07 - 6 - 2002 dans Action 81

The European Coalition on Medicine is a collective made up of associations supporting patients’ and consumers’ rights (including Act Up Paris), and of independent medical publications. It was created in order to fight a proposal that would change European policy on advertising and information related to medicine.

It would ease restrictions on advertising medication, thus allowing the pharmaceutical industry to promote their drugs and increase their profits. The pharmaceutical industry has worked with Erkki Likkanen, the European Commissioner of Trade, in charge of business and communication, to create a proposal customized to their demands.

Proposed measures include :
- allowing public advertising campaigns for prescription medication (for diabetes, asthma and aids) on the pretext that the drug companies would be distributing « information » to patients. In fact, this would allow companies to promote their drugs through campaigns that often forget to include crucial aspects of treatment, such as side-effects.

- accelerating the commercial authorization process. In itself, this might not be a bad thing, since theoretically it could give patients faster access to the medication they need. This measure would reduce the examination period for medication from 210 days to 150 days. The danger, however, is that this might result in an incomplete, slapdash product examination, since a while is needed to examine the drugs before they are put on the market. It is better to keep the 210 day period, and only accelerate approval in exceptional cases, such as drugs offering an entirely new kind of therapy offering an alternative to people resisting other molecules.

- getting rid of the five-year renewals necessary for market authorization. Currently, market authorization is only given for five-year renewable terms. Unfortunately, agencies licensing medication often turn what should really be a new examination of the medication and its uses into a mere formality. However, the re-evaluation of undesirable side-effects using new data and information on long-term use is essential for insuring public health and patient safety.

- strengthening the right of European countries to recognize each others’ market authorization. This system would allow a drug to receive market authorization in all EU countries after it is approved by the national agency in charge of medications of any EU country. This procedure is interesting in theory, but in practice has some major drawbacks. National expertise verifying scientific data on medicine vary a lot, and the process currently lacks transparency. The risk is that the market authorization would be given too easily, to the detriment of patients.

It’s clear that this proposal from the General trade Directorate is a massive attack on public health and patients, and that it benefits only the pharmaceutical industry. It is also surprising that European institutions in charge of medicine are attached to the European Commission’s directorate of trade, and not to the directorate of health. This is illustrative of the subordination of public health to commercial interests.

To resist these measures, we have submitted sixty amendments to the European Parliament members to be defended in front of the Chamber. The directive will be put before the European Parliament for the first time on July 9 and 10.

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