Researchers in this week's BMJ raise concerns over suggestions that drug makers could supply information on medicines to patients, as part of a proposal to modify the current ban on direct to consumer advertising in Europe.
Direct to consumer advertising (the promotion of prescription drugs to the public) is currently used only in the United States and New Zealand. Yet a recent report from the Institute of Medicine confirmed that direct to consumer advertising increases the early use of new drugs and called for a two year moratorium of such advertising for newly approved drugs.
A proposal to modify the current ban on direct to consumer advertising is due to be considered by the European parliament in the next few months.
But an interim report released at the end of April 2007 concludes that reliable information on medicines is not sufficient for patients' needs and calls for a partnership between drug manufacturers and regulatory bodies to plug this information gap.
The authors argue that such a partnership would be confusing. They also point out that several examples of good information sources are now available in Europe. The difficulty for the public is finding them and distinguishing between promotional material and unbiased evidence based information.
So where do we go from here, they ask? They propose two areas of real partnership with the drug industry that would reinforce public trusts in the system.
The first would entail giving full access to data on the effectiveness and safety of drugs to enhance transparency.
The second would be to move the European Medicines Evaluation Agency from the Enterprise and Industry Directorate General to the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General to avoid the current conflict between supporting the competitiveness of the drug industry and the interests of patients.
The most sensible way to protect public health, they conclude, would be to identify sources of unbiased and systematically reviewed information and maintain the current European legislation on drug promotion, while reinforcing the role of the European Medicines Evaluation Agency.