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.