Majority of pharma firms silent following call to end opioid marketing

by Leo Almazora17 Sep 2018

Around a quarter of more than 100 pharmaceutical companies have so far responded to a request from the federal health minister to stop marketing opioids to healthcare professionals in Canada.

The call to stop the practice, which was issued earlier this summer, is part of Health Canada’s response to a crisis of apparent opioid overdoses that claimed nearly 4,000 Canadians last year, reported CBC News.

In letters to 102 opioid manufacturers and distributors, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor asked that they stop pitching the drugs to healthcare professionals as the government considers new regulations. According to records from Health Canada, only 25 had responded as of September 5.

“Of those companies that responded, six — Ethyparm, Mint Pharmaceuticals Inc., Paladin Labs Inc., Pro Doc Ltée, Purdue Pharma and Teligent — agreed to cease marketing opioids,” CBC News reported. The others responded by saying they don’t currently promote or sell opioids in Canada.

Invidior Canada, the manufacturer of opioid replacement-therapy product Suboxone, contended that there should be a distinction between products meant for pain and those for addiction treatment. Purdue Pharma has said it has stopped actively promoting its prescription opioids in Canada, but still “reactively” deals with “requests for information” from healthcare professionals.

Purdue Pharma, along with Paladin Labs, Pro Doc, and other pharma firms, is being sued by the province of British Columbia. Alleging that the companies downplayed the addictive potential and other risks of their products when promoting them to physicians, the BC government wants to reclaim costs associated with the current opioid crisis.

“Canada has the second highest rate, per capita, of prescription opioid use in the world, and the number of opioid-related hospital visits and deaths here is rising,” CBC News said.

As a result of consultations with stakeholders, the government could put new regulations in place by early 2019. The rules would limit visits by drug-firm sales representatives to doctors’ offices, conferences, educational courses sponsored by opioid makers, and opioid ads in scientific journals, among other things.

"While there is value in the pharmaceutical industry conveying educational and scientific information about a health product, evidence suggests that the marketing and advertising of opioids has contributed to increased prescription sales and availability of opioids,” a post on the Health Canada website says.

Dr. Joel Lexchin, Professor Emeritus of Health Policy and Management at York University, wants the agency to go one step further and take over drug marketing all together. “[F] or virtually the entire existence of Health Canada, it's turned over regulation or promotion to either the pharmaceutical industry itself or to organizations, which are heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry," he said.


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