A marketplace flooded with dubious products: Harvey


Dr Ken Harvey

Helping in the fight against antibiotic resistance from the 1970s helped foster a lifelong interest in battling inappropriate promotion of medicines and therapeutic services, says Friends of Science in Medicine’s Dr Ken Harvey.

Dr Harvey has slammed “dubious products” and highlighted common fallacies among people who use complementary and alternative medicines, in accepting a significant science award.

The Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science awarded him its 2016 ANZAAS Medal, which he accepted last night.

Dr Harvey said that it was pharmacy colleagues who got him interested in the promotion and regulation of complementary medicines.

“Unlike registered prescription medicines (labelled AUST R), most complementary medicines are listed products (labelled AUST L); they have no pre-market assessment to see if they work,” he pointed out.

“In addition, there are no timely or effective penalties for advertisements that breach the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code.

“Inevitably, this has resulted in a marketplace flooded with dubious products, with claims that bear little relation to the often scant underlying evidence.”

He said that there are similar problems with some purveyors of complementary and alternative medicine, including “homeopaths, naturopaths, chiropractors, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and even medically qualified doctors who espouse so-called integrative medicine”.

“Common fallacies among such folk are that personal experience trumps controlled clinical trials (‘children respond wonderfully to chiropractic’); that one cherry-picked, poorly conducted trial is preferably to the totality of evidence contained in Cochrane meta-analyses, and that a religious faith in the principles of homeopathy, or the chiropractic dogma of vertebral subluxation, is still an appropriate basis of practice, despite being completely discredited by scientific investigation.

“This also raises questions about the so-called regulators of such activities. Is it acceptable to allow claims of efficacy for homeopathic products for childhood infections, or chiropractic treatment of ADHD, if there is no good evidence to support these claims and consumer detriment results?”

He encouraged listeners to critically appraise the evidence and flood the regulators with complaints about misleading and deceptive promotion, as well as advocating for policy change.

Dr Harvey also discussed the history of antibiotic resistance and the way in which microbiologists, clinical pharmacologists, physicians and pharmacists collaborated to write the first edition of the Antibiotic Guidelines.

“This started a life-long interest in countering the inappropriate promotion of therapeutic goods and services,” he said.

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