B.C. Liberals cut support for renowned pharmaceutical watchdog
The B.C. Liberal government has eliminated funding for a low-cost program that’s recognized for saving lives and saving the province millions of dollars.
For nearly 20 years, the UBC–based Therapeutics Initiative has provided British Columbia’s healthcare workers with unbiased, evidence-based information about drug therapies.
According to a TI survey, 95 percent of physicians and 92 percent of pharmacists in the province stated that the concise letters published at ti.ubc.ca had led to changes in the way they prescribe or recommend drugs.
Well-informed prescription practices linked to the TI—especially concerning drugs new to markets—have helped B.C. achieve the lowest per capita prescription costs in Canada, the TI found.
Yet late yesterday (April 22), the Straight learned that the B.C. Liberal government has ceased funding for the program, effectively shutting it down.
“They finally confirmed that they have completely cut off our funding,” said Dr. Tom Perry, chair of the TI’s education group. He emphasized that the Liberal government is preventing the TI from functioning.
“They’ve eliminated all funding, and closed our unique laboratory,” Perry emphasized in a telephone interview. “They stopped transferring the money to UBC quietly. They led us to believe that it would eventually be coming, and then sometime after April 1, they informed UBC that it wouldn’t be.”
The B.C Ministry of Health refused to grant an interview on the topic. Ryan Jabs, manager of communications for the ministry, referred questions to the B.C. Liberal Party. A request for an interview with Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid did not receive a response.
At a campaign stop at the South Granville Seniors Centre this morning (April 23), B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix condemned the Liberal’s decision and voiced unequivocal support for the TI.
“The Therapeutics Initiative is recognized internationally as a leader in prescription drug policy,” he said. “It has saved lives, saved money for our health-care system, and ensured that best practices in prescription drug policy and prescribing are followed in B.C.”
Dix called attention to the TI’s position in the NDP’s election platform. It states that if elected, the NDP will “Restore the Therapeutic Initiative’s role as BC’s drug watchdog and make its expertise available to private drug plans, clinicians and consumers.”
Alan Cassels, a drug-policy researcher at the University of Victoria, described the TI as an invaluable alternative to information pushed by a drug industry that spends billions of dollars convincing healthcare workers to offer new medications to patients.
He explained that by his calculations, pharmaceutical companies collectively spend an estimated $5,000 on marketing per doctor per year in B.C. Meanwhile, the TI has served as a relatively-inexpensive counterweight to all that industry pressure. (The TI’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year was $550,000.)
“So the imbalance between marketing information and good quality science was something like a thousand-to-one,” Cassels said “Now, it’s a thousand-to-zero.”
In separate interviews, both Perry and Cassels said that the Liberal’s decision to eliminate the TI was a move they saw coming.
In 2008, the government under premier Gordon Campbell created a panel stacked in favour of the pharmaceutical industry and tasked it with a mandate to instruct the Ministry of Health on how it should reform B.C.’s PharmaCare program. The PTF suggested the TI be stripped of its two primary functions: drug-submission review and education.
More recently, Perry recounted how in June 2012, the ministry blocked researchers’ access to a database that served as the TI’s primary source of information for pharmaceutical drug use in B.C.
“They provided absolutely no explanation for that,” he said.
“We were always a target for the drug industry,” Perry maintained. “They gradually whittled away at us.”
Cassels summed it all up as “inexplicable.”
“The ministry won’t answer any questions on why they’re doing this,” he added.
Apr 23, 2013 at 1:31pm
But I heard Christie this morning telling us how fiscally responsible the Liberals are. Surely that wasn't just a bunch of spin??
Apr 23, 2013 at 2:56pm
Margaret MacDiarmid should be thoroughly ashamed of herself.
Apr 23, 2013 at 5:45pm
A low-cost programe that is recognized for saving lives and the province millions of dollars. This money is well spent compared to the film gala from India that was a dud
Apr 23, 2013 at 6:22pm
This attack on the health--and very lives--of British Columbians alone would be reason enough to banish the B.C. Liberals to the political hinterlands forever.
When the money trail from big pharma is finally followed, there will, undoubtedly, be a legal reckoning characterized by extreme prejudice.
At least, that is my fervent hope.
Apr 23, 2013 at 7:33pm
I could not agree more Martin. If the NDP wins as expected, I hope they hold a public inquiry into this matter, along with BC Rail.
Apr 23, 2013 at 8:24pm
Margaret MacDiarmid, thanks for confirming what most of us already suspected: public watchdogs be damned!....Job 1 for the BC Liberals is punching Big Pharma's ticket!
Apr 23, 2013 at 10:34pm
I have heard a lot of descriptions about TI over the years and rarely in a glowing supportive context. Funny how when it is threatened to be terminated that most comments turn from negative to positive. British Columbians love to rally with the forlorn and scour the streets for the "cause of the day". Where were you when funding was being cut over the last several years and there were discussions of replacing TI. For the record, I believe in the TI service and hope for it to continue. As for comments stating how the Liberals are supporting Big Pharma? You should do just a wee bit of research before making such comments. I suspect you are 'plants' to try and discredit the ruling government. Take a look at the legislation and pricing agreements put in place alone in the past year. Imagine a business segment where they are told how much they can sell product for. In 18 months alone, generics were repriced and costs dropped three times by as much as 60 to 70%. Plus, all professional allowances or rebates from Pharma to Pharmacy and Pharmacare were eliminated. What part of this wreaks of government punching Pharma's ticket?
Apr 24, 2013 at 8:28am
....and the quid pro quo for a new pricing deal was to put the final knife in TI. You don't need 'research' to figure that out...it's just how the BC Liberals and their cronies roll.
Can't have this pesky consumer safety organization continuing to challenge Big Pharma's marketing juggernaut in Canada...gads, no.
Apr 24, 2013 at 8:56am
Yesterday, Christy crowed ”the economy will take care of health care” – which is doublespeak for saying health care will continue to deteriorate in the province under the Liberal watch.
Apr 24, 2013 at 4:16pm
Rob Taylor: If you've heard many descriptions of the TI over the years, you obviously are in a field where the name of the Initiative and their work are bandied about frequently. For the rest of the great unwashed, regular, non-specialist-type citizenry, this does come as a shock. Especially after reading all the cloak-and-dagger surrounding the firings and the disbelief of the scientific community internationally.
If you've heard of it in less-than-glowing terms, why do you "believe in " their service?
Regarding pricing and what other business sectors are told what they can sell a product for--imagine a business sector that, because of the nature of the product they sell, is regulated closely on a number of fronts and still manages to turn a substantial profit.
I suspect that you are a plant for the "ruling government"--I am just one of the great unwashed trying to glean a little information from "doing just a wee bit of research".