By Scott Milne, executive director NZSMI

Scott Milne

Scott Milne

Comments reproduced from an article in Pharmacy Today (March issue)

We are bitterly disappointed and stunned at the announcement by the Health Ministry on February 25 that it would restrict access to popular OTC cough and cold medicines containing opium and squill, as well as dextromethorphan and modified-release paracetamol by reclassifying the medicines to prescription-only.

This change affects widely used cough and cold medicine brands such as Gee’s Linctus, Benadryl, Codral, Coldrex, Dimetapp, Panadol Cold & Flu Relief, Robitussin, Strepsils, Vicks and Your Pharmacy.

Medsafe’s Medicines Classification Committee’s (MCC) told Pharmacy Today it made the recommendation at its November 2018 meeting due to concerns about patient safety. The move was gazetted into law on February 25, causing pharmacists to scramble to remove products from the shelves as many claimed they had not been given sufficient notice.

Apparently, NZSMI’s submissions made on the matter containing a “substantial body of scientific evidence” on the safety of the products were ignored, with the MCC instead relying on anecdotal evidence.

The limited anecdotal evidence reviewed during the MCC consultation included concerns raised by the father of a 16-year-old who had overdosed, and a commercial operator who described two incidents of misuse of the products. Medsafe admits it does not have definitive data on the extent of abuse in New Zealand.

We’ve been hit by a philosophy that says, ‘Look what’s happening in Canada, or the US, or Timbuktu…it must be happening here’.

The only good thing to come out of this is that it has absolutely highlighted the dysfunctional nature of the MCC. We believe it is time for a major reform of the committee and the entire reclassification process.

We are now looking at our legal options to see if we can challenge the recommendations.

The MCC needs to publish more transparent records of its discussions, including voting records, having a transparent appeal process and providing opportunities to consult on different options for reclassification other than those proposed.

The change will create substantial costs on product manufacturers who will need to re carton and relabel products. This could make some companies decide to leave the market, ultimately resulting in patient choice being limited.

Pharmacists too are unhappy about the reclassification with one being quoted in Pharmacy Today as saying: “Why are they trying to take away things that actually work from pharmacists?”