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Safer medicine - 10/12/2008

Set of vials ©EC

Pharmaceutical companies to provide more information on prescription drugs and consumers to be better protected against counterfeit medicine.

The commission has tabled proposals to improve how the European pharmaceutical market operates and ensure that patients benefit from safe, innovative and accessible medicines.

One proposal would allow the industry to post non-promotional product information on the internet or in health-related publications. Consumers could then access the information to find out about the composition, uses and effects of different drugs on the market. At present, not all Europeans have access to such information, partly because standards differ from country to country.

Europeans should be informed about available medicines and treatments “since their health is at stake,” said vice-president Günter Verheugen, commissioner for enterprise and industry.

National authorities would monitor the information to ensure it does not violate the European ban on advertising prescription medicine. The ban is intended to prevent the inappropriate consumption of medicine and help contain drug costs.

Other measures – including mandatory safety features like serial codes and seals on packages – seek to protect consumers against counterfeit medicine and unsafe drugs. Counterfeit medicine is a problem throughout the world. Anyone almost anywhere can come across medicine packaged to look legitimate but which does not contain the correct ingredients or – worse – may be filled with toxic substances.

Unfortunately, counterfeit drugs are big business, with sales expected to reach €58bn globally in 2010 (more than 90% up on 2005). To stamp out these practices, the new proposals would require drug manufacturers to audit the firms that make the active ingredients in their products. Purchasers too would have to audit wholesale distributors.

With reactions to medicine causing nearly 200 000 deaths in the EU every year, the plan also contains proposals to strengthen and clarify the EU system for monitoring the safety of medicine.

The plan also calls for talks among EU countries about how to make decisions on pricing and reimbursement more transparent and how to boost pharmaceutical research. It recommends more cooperation on safety with the US, Japan and Canada.

More on pharmaceuticals in the EU

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