MP calls for independent drug agency following child's death

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MP calls for independent drug agency following child's death

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MP calls for independent drug agency following daughter's death.

Canwest News Service - April 11, 2009

By Meagan Fitzpatrick,

Nine years after vowing to find out why his healthy teenage daughter died while taking a popular prescription drug, a rookie MP is launching a campaign to persuade the Harper government to establish an independent drug safety agency in Canada.

Terence Young, Conservative MP for Oakville, Ont., is making his pitch for the agency in a new book that details his battle with ``Big Pharma'' and the health agencies and professionals that are charged with protecting patients like his daughter Vanessa.

Next week, he will introduce a motion in the House of Commons, where he hopes MPs from all parties will support his push for drug safety reform.

"This is a non-partisan issue. I will be appealing to all my colleagues in Parliament to create an independent drug agency to deal with these issues and make Canadians safer,'' Young said in an interview. ``It's my goal, my dream, to have a consensus in Parliament to move forward on this.''

The MP says his book, Death by Prescription:A Father Takes on his Daughter's Killer - The Multi-Billion-Dollar Pharmaceutical Industry, officially released Tuesday, is the culmination of his efforts to ``uncover the truth'' about why his 15-year-old daughter's heart stopped and she collapsed before his eyes on March 19, 2000.

Vanessa, who sometimes felt bloated and would occasionally throw up after meals, had been taking a widely used drug named Prepulsid whenever she experienced those symptoms, including during the week she died.

A psychiatrist had diagnosed Vanessa with a mild form of bulimia and in January 2000, she underwent a test to see if there was a blockage in her digestive system that was causing the bloating and prompting her to occasionally throw up. The results were negative.

Prepulsid manufacturer, Janssen-Ortho, had established it was a risk to combine the medication with throwing up but the Youngs were never told about any dangers associated with the drug.

There were more risks linked to the drug however, and in the United States and in Canada there were hundreds of reports of adverse reactions, including cases of cardiac arrest and sudden death.

In May 2000, Health Canada sent a letter to Canadian doctors saying Prepulsid was being withdrawn from the market - but not until August. It was also taken off American store shelves.

The public inquest into Vanessa's death and other reports such as the Romanow commission on the future of health care in Canada have made dozens of recommendations on how to reform the drug safety system.

"Nothing significant has changed to make patients safer in Canada in nine years,'' according to Young, who says he is frustrated but resolved to see those changes made.

Young envisions an arms-length organization that would report to Parliament and would be responsible for improving and maintaining patient safety on a variety of fronts.

"It would have the power to pull dangerous drugs off the market without negotiating with pharmaceutical companies,'' said Young.

It would also oversee, or be the body responsible for, writing patient information leaflets to accompany prescriptions that clearly state in plain language the ``true risks'' of the drug, he said.

Third, the agency would enforce compulsory reporting of adverse drug reactions by doctors, who currently do it on a voluntary basis, and fourth, it would issue ``effective safety messages to the public and the media as opposed to the ineffective safety messages that Health Canada has been sending out that most people never see,'' said Young.

The independent agency would also enforce rules around what Young calls "debts of gratitude'' that pharmaceutical firms create with doctors in various ways such as paying them to attend meetings, funding research grants and other perks.

Health Canada has made some steps in the right direction, Young acknowledges, but says a separate agency is still needed.

"The Health Canada officials who are supposed to be protecting us became people who helped the drug companies market drugs and that is disgraceful,'' he says.

Young has sent his book to his Conservative colleague, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, and hopes to meet with her in the coming days to discuss his ideas for drug safety reform.

Young said he started on this journey alone the day after Vanessa died but in the past nine years he has built up a wide-ranging network of allies in his quest to expose how ``greed drives the sales and marketing of prescription drugs''at the expense of the health and safety of patients.

"I'm not in the wilderness now,'' he said. "I'm in the House of Commons, I'm in the Parliament of Canada and I have a chance to do something that will save lives.''

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