The Pharmacy Guild Deal with Blackmores

Dr Ken Harvey

The Pharmacy Guild says its deal to promote Blackmores complementary medicines (CMs) has been withdrawn in view of “media reporting of the endorsement which was ill-informed and inflammatory”. My own view is that the deal itself was ill-informed and inflammatory. It involved an undisclosed payment by Blackmores to enable GuildCare dispensing software to prompt pharmacists entering prescriptions to on-sell Blackmores “Companion” products.

The four Guild-endorsed Blackmores products were a probiotic to be promoted with antibiotics, zinc with blood pressure drugs, coenzyme Q10 with vitamin D3 for statins and magnesium with proton pump inhibitors.

Dr Ken Harvey

The National Prescribing Service (NPS) and others have pointed out that there is no good evidence to support the routine use of these supplements with the prescription drugs targeted.

In addition, this practice would unnecessarily add to the “medication burden” experienced by many patients taking multiple drugs, including compliance difficulties, increased cost and potential drug interactions.

Finally, it presents ethical problems for GuildCare (who were recommending one brand only) and for individual pharmacists (who would benefit financially if they went along with prompts that may not be in their patient’s best interest).

Several polls have shown that the deal diminished the standing of pharmacists in the eyes of consumers and medical practitioners. This cancelled deal brings back memories of another: pharmaceutical advertisements in prescribing software.

Health professionals and consumers also raised strong concerns about this practice and subsequently the Medicines Australian Code of Conduct was changed to include the clause:

Advertisements for prescription products must not be placed in any section of prescribing software packages.

The Code of Practice of the Complementary Health Care Council of Australia would benefit from proscribing similar deals.

The NPS evaluation of the Blackmores Companion products highlights the need for more independent information about complementary medicines, as does the increasing number of upheld complaints about their promotion and post-marketing data from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) showing high rates of regulatory non-compliance.

The recent Australian National Audit Office report titled, Therapeutic Goods Regulation: Complementary Medicines, said (paragraph 43):

It would enhance transparency and help inform both consumers and healthcare professionals if the TGA were to place the summary of evidence it collects from sponsors, as received, on its website – with a clear indication of whether it had been assessed or evaluated by the TGA.

There are a small number of registered CMs on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). If these products were registered recently, they have been thoroughly evaluated for quality, safety and efficacy (unlike listed CMs which predominate on the ARTG).

Examples include Blackmores Flexagil pain relief cream (a clinically proven comfrey root extract) for the topical treatment of sprains and osteoarthritis, and Flordis Iberogast (a clinically proven nine-herb mixture) for irritable bowel syndrome.

Unfortunately, some registered CMs were “grandfathered” into the ARTG without proper evaluation. At this point in time, there is no way the ARTG can be searched to obtain a list of registered CMs, let alone those that have been properly evaluated as distinct from grandfathered.

The TGA should be encouraged to include a list of properly evaluated, registered complementary medicines  to help consumers and doctors separate the wheat from the hype-driven chaff.

In addition, the NPS (or other independent groups) should be encouraged to provide more independent information about evidence-based CMs that have not been registered.

However, this information needs to be product specific, not generic. Not all herbal products (or other CM formulations) are phyto or therapeutically equivalent.

As published in Medical Observer
Dr Ken Harvey is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the School of Public Health at La Trobe University.

2 Responses to The Pharmacy Guild Deal with Blackmores

  1. Guest says:

    I think Dr Ken Harvey needs to learn when to stick his nose into thing and when to leave well enough alone. People can make decisions for themselves.

  2. Matt says:

    Thanks for that insightful comment.
    You’re right, people can make decisions for themselves.
    To do that, people need information that is as complete and as accurate as possible.
    What Ken is trying to do is improve the quality of information people have about products like this.
    Wouldn’t you agree that’s a good thing?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: