A claim that direct-to-consumer drug advertising is a
constitutional right drew a fiery response from two GPs at
the New Zealand Bioethics Conference in Dunedin yesterday.
Apart from the United States, New Zealand is the only
developed economy to allow the controversial practice of
marketing pharmaceuticals to consumers .
Christchurch-based healthcare strategist Dr Nicola Rowe told
delegates that while she was not advocating for drug
advertising, it was protected under freedom of expression in
the Bill of Rights. She said there was scant evidence to
support commonly levelled claims that drug advertising harmed
patients, and increased health system costs. The argument it
pressured GPs to prescribe more drugs did not justify a ban,
as it was their job to be ''gatekeepers'', and not cede to
every patient demand.
She believed the role of drug representatives visiting GPs to
promote their wares was a far bigger influence on
Responding to Dr Rowe's talk, Dunedin GP Dr Katharine Wallis
pointed out that she had a policy of declining to meet drug
representatives, so they were not influencing her prescribing
decisions. Her patients were influenced by advertisements,
which created ''illness in the minds of people''. Drugs were
sought for ailments that used to be seen as part of the
ageing process, or simply part of life itself. A drug's side
effects could outweigh its benefits, and these had to be
explained to patients. Whangarei GP David Bawden also opposed
the adverts, saying GPs were at times ''bombarded'' by
patients wanting drugs.
He believed side effect warnings were more explicitly stated
in advertisements in the United States, where there was
increased risk of litigation. In New Zealand, adverts were
typically presented by a well-known figure ''glossing over''
possible side effects. It meant New Zealanders were at
increased risk from drugs that caused problems in their first
few years on the market, he said. Without public awareness of
a newer drug, GPs might otherwise be wary of prescribing them
for the first few years.
Dr Rowe said she was not defending the practice, but simply
pointing out it was probably a ''constitutional right'' under
New Zealand law.