The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the Health Canada consultations on the regulation of self-care products in Canada. The CMA is encouraged that Health Canada is proposing a framework for the regulation of self-care products that is reliant on scientific proof to support health claims.
The CMA has over 83,000 physician-members. Its mission is helping physicians care for patients and its vision is to be the leader in engaging and serving physicians, and the national voice for the highest standards for health and health care.
The CMA’s comments on the regulation of self-care products, particularly natural health products and non-prescription drugs is based on the CMA Policy on Complementary and Alternative Medicine attached as Appendix 1. Our position is based on the fundamental premise that decisions about health care interventions used in Canada should be based on sound scientific evidence as to their safety, efficacy and effectiveness - the same standard by which physicians and all other elements of the health care system should be assessed. Canadians deserve the highest standard of treatment available, and physicians, other health practitioners, manufacturers, regulators and researchers should all work toward this end.1 CMA supports a regulatory approach to self-care products such as natural health products that is based on risk assessment and the development of standards. 2
1 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Policy Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Update 2015). Ottawa: The Association: 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-09.pdf
2 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 1998.
3Canadian Medical Association. CMA Policy Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Update 2015). Ottawa: The Association: 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-09.pdf
4 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC08-86 - Natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2008.
5 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC10-100 - Foods fortified with “natural health” ingredients. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010.
6 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR2014-09 - Bill C-17 An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act. Ottawa: The Association; 2014.
Risk Based Approach
As noted above CMA has recommended a regulatory approach that is based on risk assessment. We are troubled that the consultation document does not provide enough information on Health Canada’s risk assessment process. We are concerned that the proposal for a risk based approach could place many natural health and homeopathic products in a lower risk category based on whether or not the product makes a health claim which would require no Health Canada review or licensing of these products. As noted in the consultation document all health products have some level of risk and Health Canada’s role is to ensure that the benefits of a product outweigh any know risks. CMA does not believe that a determination of risk can be made based on historical use of a product or on the basis of a philosophical system not supported by science.
The CMA has a long standing position that the same regulatory standards should apply to both natural health products and pharmaceutical health products. These standards should be applied to natural health products regardless of whether a health claim is made for the product. This framework must facilitate the entry of products onto the market that are known to be safe and effective, and impede the entry of products that are not known to be safe and effective until they are better understood. 3
CMA would recommend that the initial risk assessment of a self-care product should be evidence informed and based on the same standards of proof and efficacy as those for conventional medicines and pharmaceuticals. As such, we are concerned that homeopathic and natural health products are given as examples of lower risk products that would not require Health Canada review or licensing.
The consultation document redefines a health claim to only those that pertain to diagnosis, treatment, prevention, cure or mitigation of disease or serious health condition. These claims will need to be supported by scientific evidence and only these health claims will be allowed and reviewed by Health Canada.
The CMA has recommended that safety and efficacy claims for natural health products, and claims for the therapeutic value of these products should be prohibited when the supportive evidence does not meet the evidentiary standard required of medications currently regulated by Health Canada. 4 Claims of medical benefit should only be permitted when compelling scientific evidence of their safety and efficacy exists.5 Therefore the CMA supports the proposal that two products making similar claims would have to provide the same level of scientific evidence and are held to the same standard. CMA would not be in support of the proposal that products can still make claims “based on traditional systems of medicine or alternate modalities” with only “adequate supporting information” to be maintained by the company without review or licensing by Health Canada.
CMA would also recommend that even those products that do not make health claims are held to the same standard as those established for pharmaceutical products. Since our position is that all self-care products from lower risk to higher risk should be reviewed for safety and quality, all products should undergo review by Health Canada.
It is certainly problematic that, as noted in the consultation document, fewer than 2 in 5 Canadians surveyed rated themselves knowledgeable about the effectiveness of self-care products. Canadians have the right to reliable, accurate information on self-care products to help ensure that choices they make are informed. It is very important that Canadians understand the level of scrutiny a product has undergone by Health Canada. CMA can support the proposal for an authorization number on those products that have been reviewed and approved by Health Canada. Equally, a disclaimer on the product label that indicates that the product has not been reviewed or approved by Health Canada for effectiveness is very important. We must guard against an assumption by the public that if Health Canada did not need to review a product there is no risk associated with the product.
The Information provided on self-care products should be user friendly and easy to access and include a list of ingredients, instructions for use, indications that the product has been proven to treat, contraindications, side effects and interactions with other medications.
In an era when product claims can be spread vie social media and the internet and cannot be easily monitored it is important to ensure consistent oversight of product marketing. Health claims can only be promoted if they have been established with sound scientific evidence. This restriction should apply not only to advertising, but also to all statements made in product or company Web sites and communications to distributors and the public. Advertisements should be pre-cleared to ensure that they contain no deceptive messages.
In its submission on Bill C -17 An Act to amend the Food and drugs Act – Protecting Canadians from Unsafe drugs the CMA recommended that the ministerial authorities and measures to address patient safety risks should extend to natural health products.6 We would therefore suggest that Health Canada explore the need for additional powers and tools to require a company to change labels, or order a recall of an unsafe product and institute new penalties to address patient safety issues.
Canada's physicians are prepared to work with governments, health professionals and the public in strengthening Canada's regulatory framework for self-care products to ensure that the health related products Canadians receive are safe and effective.
Jeff Blackmer, MD, MHSc, FRCPC
Vice-President, Medical Professionalism
Canadian Medical Association
COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
This statement discusses the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) position on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM, widely used in Canada, is increasingly being subject to regulation. The CMA’s position is based on the fundamental premise that decisions about health care interventions used in Canada should be based on sound scientific evidence as to their safety, efficacy and effectiveness - the same standard by which physicians and all other elements of the health care system should be assessed. Patients deserve the highest standard of treatment available, and physicians, other health practitioners, manufacturers, regulators and researchers should all work toward this end. All elements of the health care system should “consider first the well-being of the patient.”1 The ethical principle of non-maleficence obliges physicians to reduce their patient’s risks of harm. Physicians must constantly strive to balance the potential benefits of an intervention against its potential side effects, harms or burdens. To help physicians meet this obligation, patients should inform their physician if the patient uses CAM.
1 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
2 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC00-196 - Clinical care to incorporate evidence-based technological advances. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2000. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
3 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
4 Canadian Medical Association. CMA statement on emerging therapies [media release]. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010. Available: www.facturation.net/advocacy/emerging-therapies.
CAM in Canada
CAM has been defined as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.”i This definition comprises a great many different, otherwise unrelated products, therapies and devices, with varying origins and levels of supporting scientific evidence. For the purpose of this
i Working definition used by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
analysis, the CMA divides CAM into four general categories:
. Diagnostic Tests: Provided by CAM practitioners. Unknown are the toxicity levels or the source of test material, e.g., purity. Clinical sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value should be evidence-based.
. Products: Herbal and other remedies are widely available over-the-counter at pharmacies and health food stores. In Canada these are regulated at the federal level under the term Natural Health Products.
. Interventions: Treatments such as spinal manipulation and electromagnetic field therapy may be offered by a variety of providers, regulated or otherwise.
. Practitioners: There are a large variety of practitioners whose fields include chiropractic, naturopathy, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and many others. Many are unregulated or regulated only in some provinces/territories of Canada.
Many Canadians have used, or are currently using, at least one CAM modality. A variety of reasons has been cited for CAM use, including: tradition; curiosity; distrust of mainstream medicine; and belief in the “holistic” concept of health which CAM practitioners and users believe they provide. For most Canadians the use is complementary (in addition to conventional medicine) rather than alternative (as a replacement). Many patients do not tell their physicians that they are using CAM.
Toward Evidence-Informed Health Care
Use of CAM carries risks, of which its users may be unaware. Indiscriminate use and undiscriminating acceptance of CAM could lead to misinformation, false expectations, and diversion from more appropriate care, as well as adverse health effects, some of them serious.
The CMA recommends that federal, provincial and territorial governments respond to the health care needs of Canadians by ensuring the provision of clinical care that continually incorporates evidence-informed technological advances in information, prevention, and diagnostic and therapeutic services.2 Physicians take seriously their duty to advocate for quality health care and help their patients choose the most beneficial interventions. Physicians strongly support the right of patients to make informed decisions about their medical care. However, the CMA’s Code of Ethics requires physicians to recommend only those diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that they consider to be beneficial to the patient or to others.3 Until CAM interventions are supported by scientifically-valid evidence, physicians should not recommend them. Unless proven beneficial, CAM services should not be publicly funded. To help ensure that Canadians receive the highest-quality health care, the CMA recommends that CAM be subject to rigorous research on its effects, that it be strictly regulated, and that health professionals and the public have access to reliable, accurate, evidence-informed information on CAM products and therapies. Specific recommendations are provided below:
a) Research: Building an Evidence Base
To date, much of the public’s information on CAM has been anecdotal, or founded on exaggerated claims of benefit based on few or low-quality studies. The CMA is committed to the principle that, before any new treatment is adopted and applied by the medical profession, it must first be rigorously tested and recognized as evidence-informed.4 Increasingly, good-quality, well-controlled studies are being conducted on CAM products and therapies. The CMA supports this development. Research into promising therapies is always welcome and should be encouraged, provided that it is subject to the same standards for proof and efficacy as those for conventional medical and pharmaceutical treatments. The knowledge thus obtained
should be widely disseminated to health professionals and the public.
b) An Appropriate Regulatory Framework
Regulatory frameworks governing CAM, like those governing any health intervention, should enshrine the concept that therapies should have a proven benefit before being represented to Canadians as effective health treatments.
i) Natural Health Products. Natural health products are regulated at the federal level through the Natural Health Products Directorate of Health Canada.
The CMA believes that the principle of fairness must be applied to the regulatory process so that natural health products are treated fairly in comparison with other health products.5 The same regulatory standards should apply to both natural health products and pharmaceutical health products. These standards should be applied to natural health products regardless of whether a health claim is made for the product. This framework must facilitate the entry of products onto the market that are known to be safe and effective, and impede the entry of products that are not known to be safe and effective until they are better understood. It should also ensure high manufacturing standards to assure consumers of the products’ safety, quality and purity. The CMA also recommends that a series of standards be developed for each natural health product. These standards should include:
5 Canadian Medical Association. CMA statement on emerging therapies [media release]. Available: www.facturation.net/advocacy/emerging-therapies.
6 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 1998.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC08-86 - Natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2008.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC10-100 - Foods fortified with “natural health” ingredients. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010. Available:
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Paragraph 7. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
10 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Paragraph 11. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
11 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa: The Association; 1998.
12 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa: The Association; 1998.
* manufacturing processes that ensure the purity, safety and quality of the product;
* labelling standards that include standards for consumer advice, cautions and claims, and explanations for the safe use of the product to the consumer.6
The CMA recommends that safety and efficacy claims for natural health products be evaluated by an arm’s length scientific panel, and claims for the therapeutic value of natural health products should be prohibited when the supportive evidence does not meet the evidentiary standard required of medications regulated by Health Canada.7 Claims of medical benefit should only be permitted when compelling scientific evidence of their safety and efficacy exists.8
The Canadian Medical Association advocates that foods fortified with “natural health” ingredients should be regulated as food products and not as natural health products
The CMA recommends that the regulatory system for natural health products be applied to post-marketing surveillance as well as pre-marketing regulatory review. Health Canada’s MedEffect adverse reaction reporting system now collects safety reports on Natural Health Products. Consumers, health professionals and manufacturers are encouraged to report adverse reactions to Health Canada.
ii) CAM Practitioners. Regulation of CAM practitioners is at different stages. The CMA believes that this regulation should: ensure that the services CAM practitioners offer are truly efficacious; establish quality control mechanisms and appropriate standards of practice; and work to develop an evidence-informed body of competence that develops with evolving knowledge.
Just as the CMA believes that natural health products should be treated fairly in comparison with other health products, it recommends that CAM practitioners be held to the same standards as other health professionals. All CAM practitioners should develop Codes of Ethics that insure practitioners consider first the best interests of their patients.
Among other things, associations representing CAM practitioners should develop and adhere to conflict of interest guidelines that require their members to:
. Resist any influence or interference that could undermine their professional integrity;9
. Recognize and disclose conflicts of interest that arise in the course of their professional duties and activities, and resolve them in the best interests of patients;10
. Refrain, for the most part, from dispensing the products they prescribe. Engaging in both prescribing and dispensing , whether for financial benefit or not, constitutes a conflict of interest where the provider's own interests conflict with their duty to act in the best interests of the patient.
c) Information and Promotion
Canadians have the right to reliable, accurate information on CAM products and therapies to help ensure that the treatment choices they make are informed. The CMA recommends that governments, manufacturers, health care providers and other stakeholders work together to ensure that Canadians have access to this information. The CMA believes that all natural health products should be labeled so as to include a qualitative list of all ingredients. 11 Information on CAM should be user-friendly and easy to access, and should include:
. Instructions for use;
. Indications that the product or therapy has been convincingly proven to treat;
. Contraindications, side effects and interactions with other medications;
. Should advise the consumer to inform their health care provider during any encounter that they are using this product.12
This information should be provided in such a way as to minimize the impact of vested commercial interests on its content.
In general, brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way of providing information about any health product or therapy. In view of our limited knowledge of their effectiveness and the risks they may contain risks, the advertising of health claims for natural health products should be severely restricted. The CMA recommends that health claims be promoted only if they have been established with sound scientific evidence. This restriction should apply not only to advertising, but also to all statements made in product or company Web sites and communications to distributors and the public. Advertisements should be pre-cleared to ensure that they contain no deceptive messages. Sanctions against deceptive advertising must be rigidly enforced, with Health Canada devoting adequate resources to monitor and correct misleading claims.
The CMA recommends that product labels include approved health claims, cautions
and contraindications, instructions for the safe use of the product, and a recommendation that patients tell physicians that they are using the products. If no health claims are approved for a particular natural health product, the label should include a prominent notice that there is no evidence the product contributes to health or alleviates disease.
The Role of Health Professionals
Whether or not physicians and other health professionals support the use of CAM, it is important that they have access to reliable information on CAM products and therapies, so that they can discuss them with their patients.
Patients should be encouraged to report use of all health products, including natural health products, to health care providers during consultations. The CMA encourages Canadians to become educated about their own health and health care, and to appraise all health information critically.
The CMA will continue to advocate for evidence-informed assessment of all methods of health care in Canada, and for the provision of accurate, timely and reliable health information to Canadian health care providers and patients.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s consultation document Questions related to Mandatory Reporting of Adverse Drug Reactions and Medical Device Incidents by Provincial and Territorial Healthcare Institutions.
Prescription medication has an important role as part of a high-quality, patient-centred and cost-effective health care system. Prescription medication can prevent serious disease, reduce the need for hospital stays, replace surgical treatment and improve a patient’s capacity to function productively in the community. In consideration of this important role, the CMA has developed a substantial body of policy on pharmaceutical issues which includes policy on Canada’s post-approval surveillance system for prescription medication.
It is a priority to physicians that all Canadians have access to medically-necessary drugs that are safe, effective, affordable, appropriately prescribed and administered, as part of a comprehensive, patient-centered health care and treatment plan.
The CMA welcomes Health Canada’s consultation on the new legislative authority established by Vanessa’s Law to implement mandatory reporting of adverse drug reactions (ADR) and medical device incidents by provincial and territorial healthcare institutions. The CMA appreciates all opportunities to work with governments, health care professionals
and the public in strengthening Canada’s post-approval surveillance system and ensuring that the prescription drugs Canadians receive are safe and effective.
The CMA’s submission is organized in three main sections. In the first section, the CMA’s concerns with the current ADR reporting system are identified as critical context for this regulatory development process. The second section provides an overview of the CMA’s recommendations on necessary improvements to this system. Finally, the CMA’s responses to the questions outlined in Health Canada’s discussion document are presented in the third section.
Part 1: Context of CMA’s Recommendevices with which they have a concern, and also for research purposes.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
I am Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the Vice-President of Medical Professionalism for the Canadian Medical Association.
On behalf of the CMA, let me first commend the committee for initiating an emergency study on this public health crisis in Canada.
As the national organization representing over 83,000 Canadian physicians, the CMA has an instrumental role in collaborating with other health stakeholders, governments and patient organizations in addressing the opioid crisis in Canada.
On behalf of Canada’s doctors, the CMA is deeply concerned with the escalating public health crisis related to problematic opioid and fentanyl use.
Physicians are on the front lines in many respects.
Doctors are responsible for supporting patients with the management of acute and chronic pain. Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care.
The CMA has long been concerned with the harms associated with opioid use. In fact, we appeared before this committee as part of its 2013 study on the government’s role in addressing prescription drug abuse.
At that time, we made a number of recommendations on the government’s role – some of which I will reiterate today.
Since then, the CMA has taken numerous actions to contribute to Canada’s response to the opioid crisis.
These actions have included advancing the physician perspective in all active government consultations.
In addition to the 2013 study by the health committee, we have also participated in the 2014 ministerial roundtable and recent regulatory consultations led by Health Canada — specifically, on tamper resistant technology for drugs and delisting of naloxone for the prevention of overdose deaths in the community.
Our other actions have included:
· Undertaking physician polling to better understand physician experiences with prescribing opioids;
· Developing and disseminating new policy on addressing the harms associated with opioids;
· Supporting the development of continuing medical education resources and tools for physicians;
· Supporting the national prescription drug drop off days; and,
· Hosting a physician education session as part of our annual meeting in 2015.
Further, I’m pleased to report that the CMA has recently joined the Executive Council of the First Do No Harm strategy, coordinated by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
In addition, we have joined 7 leading stakeholders as part of a consortium formed this year to collaborate on addressing the issue from a medical standpoint.
I will now turn to the CMA’s recommendations for the committee’s consideration. These are grouped in four major theme areas.
1) Harm Reduction
The first of them is harm reduction.
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments.
Despite the fact that there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach.
In its current form, this strategy does not significantly address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use.
The CMA strongly recommends that the federal government review the National Anti-Drug Strategy to reinstate harm reduction as a core pillar.
Supervised consumption sites are an important part of a harm reduction program that must be considered in an overall strategy to address harms from opioids. The availability of supervised consumption sites is still highly limited in Canada.
The CMA maintains its concerns that the new criteria established by the Respect for Communities Act are overly burdensome and deter the establishment of new sites.
As such, the CMA continues to recommend that the act be repealed or at the least, significantly amended.
2) Expanding Pain Management and Addiction Treatment
The second theme area I will raise is the need to expand treatment options and services.
Treatment options and services for both addiction as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada.
This includes substitution treatments such as buprenorphine-naloxone as well as services that help patients taper off opioids or counsel them with cognitive behavioural therapy.
Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an emergency basis to significantly expand the availability and access to addiction treatment and pain management services.
3) Investing in Prescriber and Patient Education
The third theme I will raise for the committee’s consideration is the need for greater investment in both prescriber as well as patient education resources.
For prescribers, this includes continuing education modules as well as training curricula. We need to ensure the availability of unbiased and evidenced-based educational programs in opioid prescribing, pain management and in the management of addictions.
Further, support for the development of educational tools and resources based on the new clinical guidelines to be released in early 2017 will have an important role.
Finally, patient and public education on the harms associated with opioid usage is critical.
As such, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver new funding to support the availability and provision of education and training resources for prescribers, patients and the public.
4) Establishing a Real-time Prescription Monitoring Program
Finally, to support optimal prescribing, it is critical that prescribers be provided with access to a real-time prescription monitoring program.
Such a program would allow physicians to review a patient’s prescription history from multiple health services prior to prescribing. Real-time prescription monitoring is currently only available in two jurisdictions in Canada.
Before closing, I must emphasize that the negative impacts associated with prescription opioids represent a complex issue that will require a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder response.
A key challenge for public policy makers and prescribers is to mitigate the harms associated with prescription opioid use, without negatively affecting patient access to the appropriate treatment for their clinical conditions.
To quote a past CMA president: “the unfortunate reality is that there is no silver bullet solution and no one group or government can address this issue alone”.
The CMA is committed to being part of the solution.