ABC’s recklessness could yet again put patient health at risk.

Opinion Piece attributable to Milton Catelin, Chief Executive, Medicines Australia.

You may be aware that the ABC has recently published and broadcast a series of reports relating to the prescription of Novel Oral Anticoagulants (NOACs) which claim doctors are being unduly influenced by innovative pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their products to patients potentially putting their health at risk.

The stories insinuate that doctors may be prescribing a NOAC product, even if it is not the right drug for their patient, simply because a pharmaceutical company provided food at a meeting or support to attend an independent medical conference. To back this assertion it used publicly available Medicines Australia reports on educational events provided transparently by our members. It also used questionable research from the United States which claims a doctor can be influenced to prescribe a particular product by as little as a sandwich from a pharmaceutical representative.

The articles rely heavily on insinuation and seek to misinform the reader about the safety of NOACs, even going so far as to tenuously link them to death.

Our strong fear is that the ABC’s reports may encourage patients to consider stopping taking their medicines when there is a high risk of potentially catastrophic outcomes for this group of patients, including stroke.

Let me be clear. Medicines Australia, and the entire pharmaceutical industry strongly urge Australian’s to seek the opinion of their prescribing doctor before discontinuing any medication as a result of information from a news outlet.

This isn’t about money, or a news article we disagree with. This is about lives, and the fact is, stopping medication suddenly, without medical oversight could have devastating consequences.

Whether deliberately or not, the ABC has conveniently forgotten to report that these life-changing medicines are approved by the regulator, available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and comply with each and every mechanism to ensure they provide an acceptable balance between their effectiveness and safety, that they are reliable and prescribed in an appropriate and ethical manner by a doctor.

Further, these products, as with every medicine listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, have been subjected to years of research and development, peer review, regulatory review, numerous clinical trials and government regulations.

For example, the National Health and Medical Research Council, Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), and NPS Medicine Wise all have clear guidelines relating to the approval of pharmaceutical use in Australia.

In addition to these measures, the TGA requires pharmaceutical companies to provide product education to medical practitioners. The idea that a medical practitioner would forgo their years of training and ethical obligations to patients at the behest of a pharmaceutical representative or because of support to attend a medical conference is preposterous.

Casting aspersions about the integrity of medical practitioners does nothing but undermine patient confidence at a time when there is already so much conflicting information surrounding medicines and appropriate treatments which is so readily available through “Dr Google” and Facebook.

The ABC must surely consider the possibility that people will, despite their ineffective warning at the end of the printed-only articles, stop taking these important medicines.

The ABC has some experience with this. In 2013, the ABC published a similarly salacious story on Statins. In that story, they alleged that there actually wasn’t all that much of a link between high cholesterol and heart disease, and that people were taking medications to prevent cardiac events needlessly.

The widely criticised program — removed from the ABC’s website a year ago after it was found to have breached the broadcaster’s impartiality standards — had an immediate impact, with 14,000 fewer people dispensed statin medications after the series went to air in October 2013, the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Pharmacy study found. In the months following the debunked broadcast, an estimated 60,897 fewer people filled their statins prescriptions, found the study, published in The Medical Journal of Australia.

This time around, we would have hoped that the ABC had learnt their lesson. Instead, there’s the very real potential that they have caused more harm than good.

Pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals share an important partnership. We collaborate on clinical research, share knowledge and support education to ensure that medicines are constantly improving and are used safely and appropriately by doctors and their patients.

Our member companies are committed to transparency in their interactions with medical professionals and regularly publicly report on them. The Medicines Australia Code of Conduct is the national standard for industry self-regulation and is leading the way on transparency. This Code has the approval of the ACCC.

Regarding the novel Anti-coagulants featured in the story, and the claims that our members were influencing medical practitioners, Medicines Australia has twice provided a statement to the ABC, in December and January, refuting their unsubstantiated claims. We also provided them with links to the relevant prescribing and education guidelines by the TGA.

Given ABC’s previous experience, Medicines Australia had high hopes the ABC would be a little more balanced in their reporting and consider the effects of urging people not to take their life-saving medications.

More information – Natalie Wimmer – Communications Manager, Medicines Australia – 0450728660