11 Sep 2019

Ministry of Health, Medsafe grilled over med brand switch

7:20 pm on 11 September 2019

Emotions ran high at the Health Select Committee today, with MPs grilling Medsafe and the Ministry of Health on a brand change to a generic anti-depressant.

Heap of medicine pills.  Background made from colorful pills and capsules

Photo: 123RF

A petition has been presented to Parliament's Health Select Committee, to hold an inquiry into the drug-buying agency's patient safety protocols for generic medications.

Submitters Sarah Macrae and Trudi Webber said they were relieved they had finally been heard.

Ms Macrae said after being stable for years on Effexor, she began experiencing serious side effects.

"I was anxious, I was withdrawn, I had major panic attacks, I couldn't leave the house, I couldn't see people, I just completely withdrew from life.

"There was nothing in my life that should have triggered that," she said.

She later realised the problems began when she had switched to the generic enlafax brand.

Ms Webber became so depressed following the brand switch she planned to end her life.

"I had things to look forward to, my daughter's 21st birthday coming up and she was graduating as a registered nurse and I couldn't understand why I was in this pit of despair, she said.

They said consumers and doctors should have been properly informed of the risks.

More than 500 reports of adverse side effects have been made in the two years following the switch.

But Medsafe's Group Manager Chris James said the reports did not raise safety or quality problems.

"A number of reports coming through have been reviewed by both Medsafe and our experts and also independent experts on our advisory committee, a number of times actually.

"The reports, while a large number have come through, the type of reports that have come through when we look at them are not suggesting a quality issue with the product enlafax.

The Ministry of Health, Medsafe and Pharmac maintain the generic medication works exactly the same as the other brands.

But Health committee chairperson Louisa Wall questioned whether patients who were stable for years should have had their medications changed in the first place.

"It seems that for me some of the patients on these drugs, they've been used as guinea pigs, 'lets just switch them, lets just see what happens to them and if they're adverse maybe we can switch them back,' that's really unacceptable to be honest," she said.

National's health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse wanted better answers, especially around the communication to patients.

"It's fair to say the Select Committee were disappointed with the lack of empathy from Medsafe and the Ministry of Health and the finger pointing that went on between three government agencies effectively that said that there were certain things that could been done, but it's not our responsibly.

"That's a frustration," he said.

Mr Woodhouse said the committee will make sure the right thing is done by the petitioner.

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