Medicines’ marketing practices under fire

The marketing practices of UK pharmaceuticals companies have been criticised in a parliamentary health select committee report published yesterday (Tuesday).

The report raises concerns over the promotion of drugs that may not be necessary, a “medicalisation” of society, and attempts by some companies to influence general practitioners and other health professionals into prescribing their products.

It acknowledges the contribution that new medicines make to the health of the nation but notes that there is a “trend for the industry to become ever more driven by its marketing force.” The report adds: “intensive marketing encourages inappropriate prescribing.”

It also recommends greater regulation of the industry, and calls for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulations Agency (MHRA), the body that oversees the pharmaceutical industry, to “find ways of ensuring greater restraint in medicines promotion.”

The MHRA recently announced new guidelines to regulate advertising and promotions for over-the-counter medicines (MW February 24) and has said that it recognises the need for further debate on the issue of marketing.

But industry body the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) defended its members’ marketing practices, saying “limiting the ability of doctors to receive information about medicines would be a step backwards.” Those sentiments were echoed by other companies. A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association says that the marketing of drugs to doctors is done sensibly and is less intensive than it used to be.

A proposed ban on vitamins and food supplements has been declared invalid by the European Court of Justice, after an appeal led by the British health food industry.

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