New controls considered for complementary medicines
Consumer advocates are pushing for new labelling laws for complementary medicines. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin, file photo)
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More than half of Australians have used at least one complementary medicine, ranging from vitamins to treatment drugs for arthritis and weight loss.
But recent studies have raised doubts about the effectiveness of some top-selling remedies.
Consumer group Choice recently found the drug glucosamine, used to treat osteoarthritis, provided little benefit to sufferers.
Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn says the only effect is a placebo one.
“People who purchase it are convinced of its efficacy but in terms of the real science, we are far less convinced of that, and in fact we just advise people, you are much better off moving to lifestyle treatments, losing weight, doing exercise,” he said.
“This is actually going to get you better results than taking glucosamine.”
There are more than 16,000 complementary medicines listed on the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The national prescribing service is currently reviewing the information provided to consumers about such drugs.
Jan McLucas is the parliamentary secretary to the federal Health Minister and is responsible for complementary medicines
She says she’ll consider the report within the next two months.
“Information provided to consumers can really only be described as patchy,” she said.
“Some producers provide very good websites with information about their products.
“With other products it is quite difficult to find out firstly what is in them and how they will work.”
Senator McLucas says the Federal Government may introduce measures to help consumers make more informed choices about complementary medicines.
She says that may include tougher disclosure rules.
“A range of proposals have been put to the Government including increased labelling on the medications themselves,” she said.
“Another alternative is to look at a Government-run website which consumers would have confidence in.”
Another option being considered is a proposal by Choice for complementary medicines to be given the right to display a green tick – similar to the red tick used by the National Heart Foundation.
Mr Zinn says improvements to the industry are long overdue.
“There is no reason why complementary medicines should not be treated with the same, if not similar, scrutiny as other pharmaceuticals and something else we would like to see is that those medicines who do not choose this opting system with a green tick, have some sort of label on their packaging which says this medicine has not been evaluated by health authorities for efficacy,” he said.
Dr Ken Harvey, from the school of public health at the La Trobe University, has welcomed the Government’s proposals.
“Most complementary medicines are listed, which means they’re not evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Authority to see if they work,” he said.
“There is no approved product information for them, as there is for other medicines and there is no consumer medicines information either.
“So really there is no independent source of information about these medicines in Australia.”
Nobody from two of the biggest suppliers of complementary medicines, Symbion and Blackmores, was available today to respond to the criticism.
But Dr Wendy Morrow, the executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council, rejects suggestions the industry doesn’t provide consumers with adequate information.
She says the changes aren’t needed.
“The Complementary Healthcare Council believes that the Australian Therapeutic Goods legislation and regulations already provide consumers with one of the best practice and most scientifically rigorous regulatory frameworks for complementary medicines internationally,” she said.
“There have been two comprehensive government-initiated reviews of this system since 2003 and both of these substantially supported the existed risk-based regulatory framework, subject to minor modifications and that is something that we do support.”
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