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Medicine Menace

Are Canadians uninformed about the health risks of their medicines? A new international study showing that government warnings about potential drug safety risks vary significantly in different countries across the globe suggests yes.

Led by researchers at York University and the University of British Columbia (UBC), the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, examines how often drug regulators in four countries – Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia – issued safety advisories about the potential health risks of medications.

After analyzing 1,441 advisories covering 680 drug safety concerns over a 10-year period, the researchers found that regulators in these four countries were only consistent in the decision to warn 10 per cent of the time, highlighting a need for better consistency in communication of important drug safety notices.

“Around half the time, this harm is preventable,” says Joel Lexchin, an internationally recognized pharmaceutical policy expert and professor emeritus at the School of Health Policy & Management at York University who co-authored the study with primary investigator Barbara Mintzes, an affiliate associate professor at UBC’s School of Population & Public Health and associate professor at the University of Sydney in Australia. 

“Right now, Health Canada spends three to four times more approving new drugs compared to monitoring their safety once they are on the market. We would like to see much more attention paid to ensuring that doctors and patients are informed of new evidence of harmful side effects of medicines, and what to do to prevent them that would require Health Canada to reorient its priorities.”   

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