Principles For Providing Information About Prescription Drugs To Consumers
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors, March 2003
Since the late 1990's expenditures on direct to consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs in the United States have increased many-fold. Though U.S.-style DTCA is not legal in Canada1, it reaches Canadians through cross-border transmission of print and broadcast media, and through the Internet. It is believed to have affected drug sales and patient behaviour in Canada. Other therapeutic products, such as vaccines and diagnostic tests, are also being marketed directly to the public.
Proponents of DTCA argue that they are providing consumers with much-needed information on drugs and the conditions they treat. Others argue that the underlying intent of such advertising is to increase revenue or market share, and that it therefore cannot be interpreted as unbiased information.
The CMA believes that consumers have a right to accurate information on prescription medications and other therapeutic interventions, to enable them to make informed decisions about their own health. This information is especially necessary as more and more Canadians live with chronic conditions, and as we anticipate the availability of new products that may accompany the "biological revolution", e.g. gene therapies.
The CMA recommends a review of current mechanisms, including mass media communications, for providing this information to the public. CMA believes that consumer information on prescription drugs should be provided according to the following principles. 2
Principle #1: The Goal is Good Health
The ultimate measure of the effectiveness of consumer drug information should be its impact on the health and well-being of Canadians and the quality of health care.
Principle #2: Ready Access
Canadians should have ready access to credible, high-quality information about prescription drugs. The primary purpose of this information should be education; sales of drugs must not be a concern to the originator.
Principle #3: Patient Involvement
Consumer drug information should help Canadians make informed decisions regarding management of their health, and facilitate informed discussion with their physicians and other health professionals. CMA encourages Canadians to become educated about their own health and health care, and to appraise health information critically.
Principle #4: Evidence-Based Content
Consumer drug information should be evidence based, using generally accepted prescribing guidelines as a source where available.
Principle #5: Appropriate Information
Consumer drug information should be based as much as possible on drug classes and use of generic names; if discussing brand-name drugs the discussion should not be limited to a single specific brand, and brand names should always be preceded by generic names. It should provide information on the following:
* indications for use of the drug
* side effects
* relative cost.
In addition, consumer drug information should discuss the drug in the context of overall management of the condition for which it is indicated (for example, information about other therapies, lifestyle management and coping strategies).
Principle #6: Objectivity of Information Sources
Consumer drug information should be provided in such a way as to minimize the impact of vested commercial interests on the information content. Possible sources include health care providers, or independent research agencies. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and patient or consumer groups can be valuable partners in this process but must not be the sole providers of information. Federal and provincial/territorial governments should provide appropriate sustaining support for the development and maintenance of up-to-date consumer drug information.
Principle #7: Endorsement/ Accreditation
Consumer drug information should be endorsed or accredited by a reputable and unbiased body. Information that is provided to the public through mass media channels should be pre-cleared by an independent board.
Principle #8: Monitoring and Revision
Consumer drug information should be continually monitored to ensure that it correctly reflects current evidence, and updated when research findings dictate.
Principle #9: Physicians as Partners
Consumer drug information should support and encourage open patient-physician communication, so that the resulting plan of care, including drug therapy, is mutually satisfactory.
Physicians play a vital role in working with patients and other health-care providers to achieve optimal drug therapy, not only through writing prescriptions but through discussing proposed drugs and their use in the context of the overall management of the patient's condition. In addition, physicians and other health care providers, and their associations, can play a valuable part in disseminating drug and other health information to the public.
Principle #10: Research and Evaluation
Ongoing research should be conducted into the impact of drug information and DTCA on the health care system, with particular emphasis on its effect on appropriateness of prescribing, and on health outcomes.
1 DTCA is not legal in Canada, except for notification of price, quantity and the name of the drug. However, "information-seeking" advertisements for prescription drugs, which may provide the name of the drug without mentioning its indications, or announce that treatments are available for specific indications without mentioning drugs by name, have appeared in Canadian mass media.
2 Though the paper applies primarily to prescription drug information, its principles are also applicable to health information in general.
Dear Premier Ford and Minister Elliott:
We write to you as organizations concerned about the health and welfare of some of the most vulnerable Ontarians, following reports that your government plans to undertake an unnecessary review of the evidence on supervised consumption sites (SCS),1 and the even more troubling announcement that you are imposing a moratorium on the approval of new overdose prevention sites (OPS).2
All the available evidence, including substantial peer-reviewed scientific literature, demonstrates conclusively that these health services save lives and promote the health of people who use drugs. This includes opening doors to treatment. Rather than conduct an unnecessary review and delay expansion of these services, the Ontario government should work with community organizations and health providers to rapidly scale up these services. Delays mean more preventable overdose deaths and new infections of HIV, hepatitis C and other illnesses that could be averted.
Multiple reviews of the evidence have already been done, and have established that SCS and OPS:
provide a needed health service, reducing overdose deaths and the sharing of drug-injection equipment (and the associated risk of transmission of blood-borne infections);
increase access to addiction treatment and other necessary health services; and
benefit public order by reducing public injecting.3
As you know, Canada is experiencing a large-scale opioid overdose crisis. In Ontario alone, overdose deaths related to opioids increased by 45 per cent in 2017, with more than three people dying every day during that year.4 The opioid overdose epidemic has been called “the worst drug safety crisis in Canadian history.”5 HIV, hepatitis C and other infections, as well as overdose deaths, are preventable if the right measures are taken. These include increasing voluntary access to treatment for problematic drug use (where Ontario must do better), and also simultaneously scaling up evidence-based harm reduction services such as SCS and OPS.
We urge you to heed the recommendations of experts in public health, front-line clinicians, harm reduction staff, and people with lived experience of drug use. Rather than impeding access to life-saving health services, we urge you to work with community organizations and other health services providers to ensure greater, equitable access to SCS and OPS for the people of Ontario.
Aboriginal Legal Services
ACAS—Asian Community AIDS Services
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Addiction Services of Thames Valley
Addictions and Mental Health Ontario
Africans in Partnership Against AIDS
AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia
AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area
AIDS Committee of Toronto
AIDS Committee of Windsor
AIDS Committee of York Region
AIDS Vancouver Island
Alliance for Healthier Communities
Atlantic Interdisciplinary Research Network on Hepatitis C and HIV
Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention
Breakaway Addiction Services
Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network)
Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network
Canadian AIDS Society
Canadian Association of Community Health Centres
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Canadian Medical Association
Canadian Mental Health Association—Thunder Bay Branch
Canadian Nurses Association
Canadian Positive People Network
Canadian Public Health Association
Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse—Prairie Node
Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Canadian Treatment Action Council
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
Centre for Social Innovation
Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation
Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Community Legal Assistance Sarnia
Community Legal Services of Ottawa / Services juridiques communautaires d’Ottawa
Community YWCA Muskoka
Courage Co-Lab Inc.
Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation
Elgin-Oxford Legal Clinic
Four Counties Addiction Services Team
Gerstein Crisis Centre
Guelph Community Health Centre
Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Drug Strategy
Halifax Area Network of Drug Using People (HANDUP)
Harm Reduction Nurses Association
Health Providers Against Poverty
HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario
HIV/AIDS Regional Services
HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health
Houselink Community Homes
Housing Action Now!
Huron Perth Community Legal Clinic
Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)
Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic
Inner City Health and Wellness Program
Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD)
Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services
Lake Country Community Legal Clinic
Lakeside HOPE House
Lanark County Interval House
Legal Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County
Maggie’s Toronto Sexwork Action Project
Mission Services of Hamilton Inc.
Mississauga Community Legal Services
MODIFY: Drug Insight From Youth
Moms Stop the Harm
mumsDU - moms united and mandated to saving the lives of Drug Users
Native Youth Sexual Health Network
Neighbourhood Legal Services London & Middlesex
Nipissing Community Legal Clinic
OHIP for All
Ontario AIDS Network (OAN)
Ontario Nurses’ Association
Ontario Positive Asians (OPA+)
Overdose Prevention Ottawa
Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre
Parkdale Community Legal Services
Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre
PHS Community Services Society
Planned Parenthood Toronto
Racial Health Equity Network
Reelout Arts Project
Regent Park Community Health Centre
Regional HIV/AIDS Connection
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO)
Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services
Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
South Riverdale Community Health Centre
Stonegate Community Health Centre
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Ryerson Chapter
Superior North Emergency Medical Service
Syme Woolner Neighbourhood and Family Centre
Tanner Steffler Foundation
The AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area
The Children’s Aid Society of the District of Thunder Bay
The Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness
The Mental Health Consumer Survivor Project for Simcoe County
Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board
Thunder Bay Drug Strategy
Timmins-Temiskaming Community Legal Clinic
Toronto Overdose Prevention Society
Toronto People With AIDS Foundation
Waterloo Region Community Legal Services
WellFort Community Health Services
West Neighbourhood House
West Toronto Community Legal Services
Women & HIV/AIDS Initiative, Ontario
YWCA Niagara Region
1 F. Merali, “PCs ‘playing politics with people’s lives’ on injection sites, drug policy expert warns,” CBC News, August 4, 2018. Available at: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/supervised-injection-sites-waiting-1.4771143.
2 K. Bueckert, “Ontario puts new overdose prevention sites approvals on hold,” CBC News, August 11, 2018. Available at: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/ontario-overdose-prevention-sites-approval-hold-1.4782132.
3 E.g., M. Kennedy, M. Karamouzian & T. Kerr. “Public Health and Public Order Outcomes Associated with Supervised Drug Consumption Facilities: A Systematic Review,” Current HIV/AIDS Reports, 2017; 14(5): 161-183, doi: 10.1007/s11904-017-0363-y. Available at: www.salledeconsommation.fr/_media/public-health-and-public-order-outcomes-associated-with-supervised-drug-consumption-facilities-a-systematic-review.pdf.
4 Public Health Ontario, “Opioid-related morbidity and mortality in Ontario,” May 23, 2018. Available at: www.publichealthontario.ca/en/dataandanalytics/pages/opioid.aspx#/trends.
5 Municipal Drug Strategy Coordinators’ Network of Ontario, “Opioid Epidemic: Call for Urgent Action That Can Save Lives Now,” December 9, 2015.