Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)

An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Rona Ambrose  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Food and Drugs Act regarding therapeutic products in order to improve safety by introducing measures to, among other things,

(a) strengthen safety oversight of therapeutic products throughout their life cycle;

(b) improve reporting by certain health care institutions of serious adverse drug reactions and medical device incidents that involve therapeutic products; and

(c) promote greater confidence in the oversight of therapeutic products by increasing transparency.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, absolutely, it is critical to take leadership on this front and to respond to the call of the global community when it comes to transparency and really supporting safety of clinical trials of drugs that Canadians would use. This is obviously very connected to the drug that I mentioned, RU486, where Health Canada has been notoriously cryptic. In fact, at first, it said it was not in trial and then it remembered it was and yet, there is no way for us to know at which stage it is and what these trials look like. All we do know is that 57 countries around the world see this drug as safe and beneficial to women in their country, particularly, women in remote areas. Yet, in our country, our own health department is keeping this information from us, not just in connection with this drug but, generally, it has not practised the kind of transparency we would need.

We hope that Bill C-17 would be just the first step of many that the government will take to ensure that we have a robust safety system when it comes to approving drugs and making it clear to Canadians what that process is, along the way.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 11:45 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's remarks and the fact that the official opposition will be voting in support of the bill, as will I. I certainly hope it will pass before we rise this summer, as the hon. member for Oakville has indicated he would like to see.

Would the hon. member for Churchill agree that perhaps at the close of our second reading debate today, we might be able to move for unanimous consent that the bill go straight to committee?

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 11:45 a.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, as we have indicated, we are very much in support of the bill and have been from the beginning. I think it is important for us to be able to share our position and, certainly, our hopes for further steps that need to be taken in this same vein. I think that is an absolutely critical role that we have as parliamentarians. Certainly, I expect that many of us will share our support and share further steps as this debate goes forward. We certainly hope that we can bring this bill into law sooner rather than later.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 11:45 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to support Bill C-17, an act that would protect patients and indeed all Canadians from drugs that are approved and used as prescribed and yet can result in patient deaths.

It is rare in this place to have such unanimity around a bill put forward by the government. This important legislation would amend the Food and Drugs Act. The government has taken a courageous step. The Minister of Health should have the right to recall an unsafe drug. That has been obvious since 1962, when Canada's Parliament discovered that it needed a special act of Parliament to pull thalidomide off the shelves. For half a century we have continued in the same circumstance. The Minister of Health has no power to recall a drug when that drug is recognized as dangerous. It is quite astonishing. It is not because parliamentarians and various ministers of health have not frequently wondered why they lacked those powers but it is because of one thing and that is the unholy, somewhat criminal power, that pharmaceutical lobbies hold over governments around the world.

I will be supporting Bill C-17 but I will be suggesting some areas where it could be strengthened.

I would like to pay tribute to two people. The first is the Canadian Minister of Health. Even though this legislation could be much stronger, it took courage to bring it this far.

I have to pay tribute, as everyone has mentioned, to the member of Parliament for Oakville whose own personal story is now well known. This is Vanessa's law. This legislation is named for his daughter. There really are no words to express the depth of my admiration and gratitude to this individual member of Parliament.

The member's situation and that of many others brings to light a really significant threat. I have been looking for the statistics for Canada but I will use those for the United States. In the U.S., roughly 100,000 people a year die from using prescription drugs as prescribed. There are a lot of risks to using prescription drugs. Pain relief drugs can create an addiction problem. People are using prescription drugs in ways that were not prescribed. Canadians use roughly the same drugs. The number of Canadians who die every year from using a drug prescribed by a doctor they trust, without any warning about side effects or possible death, must be in the thousands.

In the case of the hon. member for Oakville, his daughter Vanessa Charlotte Young took the drug Prepulsic as prescribed for a fairly minor health condition. Her parents went with her to every medical appointment. No one said anything about a side effect that might cause death. No parent would ever have allowed their child to take that drug had they known.

The hon. member for Oakville wrote a wonderful book called Death By Prescription. In the book he tells of going on Johnson & Johnson's website after his daughter's death to find out information on Prepulsic. He found other stories online and found that investigations had been done on this drug and that 80 deaths had been associated with it. The doctor did not know that when he prescribed the drug. The parents did not know that. Young Vanessa certainly did not know that.

Bill C-17 shines a light on a very large problem but it only begins to deal with the problem. When we think about the drug-pushing criminal element, we do not tend to think of white-collar crime. That is what this is. When a pharmaceutical executive decides not to warn the health minister that there are problems with a drug, that some people might die, because the company's profit margins are high, then that kind of activity should be criminal. If that executive decides that any studies done on a drug are proprietary, are confidential, and should never be shared, that kind of activity should be criminal. This legislation proposes steps to criminalize it.

I think a lot of members will have read the book The Constant Gardener or saw the film. It always struck me that the most powerful part of that work of fiction by John le Carré was his comment in the legal disclaimer so that no drug company could sue him. He wrote:

...I can tell you this. As my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realize that, by comparison with reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard.

We are dealing with a seriously corrupt process. I am not talking about any individuals within it, but when the large pharmaceutical companies around the world have so much power over regulators that they can avoid having automatic recalls for drugs or having the drugs assessed properly before they are registered, we have a real problem.

One place we could look for solutions is a wonderful institution that operates out of the University of British Columbia called the Therapeutics Initiative. That institution does something that, unfortunately, is all too uncommon. It refuses to accept any favours, trips, or presents from drug companies. It operates on a very strict ethical code of conduct and reviews the data packages that it is allowed to see from the health department of British Columbia. It decides and advises the government whether pharmaceutical drugs being proposed for use in the B.C. health care system will do more benefit than harm. It has come to different conclusions than Health Canada on a number of occasions.

Where are the clauses of the bill that need to be beefed up? Some of my colleagues have mentioned this already. Briefly, we need to look at transparency. The Canadian Medical Association Journal, by the way, wrote an excellent review on this bill called, “Regulating prescription drugs for patient safety: Does Bill C-17 go far enough?” It was released May 13 of this year and I commend it to members. It provides some very good areas where the bill could be strengthened.

One thing it points to, and others have as well, is that there should be the registration of all drug trials and the results of those drug trials should be made public. A recommendation from the Canadian Medical Association Journal article is that we should also make sure that when Health Canada decides not to register a drug and concludes it might be unsafe, that information should also be made public. Health regulators should no longer tremble with fear about what the pharmaceutical industry might do to them if they warn the citizens of their country that a drug may have very significant side effects that pose a threat to life and health. Therefore, more transparency is required, and I hope that will be seen at committee.

The second area is clause 31.2 of the bill, that would increase the level of fines up to $5 million. It sounds like a lot until we look at the recent drug company settlements around the world. This is a list just in the last few years, since 2008. GlaxoSmithKline, for fraud and illegal promotion of Paxil, Wellbutrin, and Avandia, was fined $3 billion since 2012. The $5-million penalty in this bill puts it into a bit of perspective. Merck, for kickbacks to health care providers, paid $1.6 billion in settlements and fines since 2008. Eli Lilly, for the illegal promotion of Zyprexa, has paid $1.3 billion since 2009.

There is a very long list here of significant fines. For off-label promotion of Topamax, an epilepsy drug, Johnson & Johnson was fined $81 million. There were $600 million in fines for the off-label promotion of botox to Allergan. Novartis was fined $422.5 million for the off-label promotion of Trileptal in 2010. The list is longer than I have time for in my short speech. I hope it makes it clear to parliamentarians that while $5 million is a big number to us, it is small change to big pharma. We need to boost the penalties.

In my remaining time, I want to suggest that at the end of the question and comment period following my speech, we put to the House that since all members in all parties that have so far spoken to this bill today support its passage and would like to see it go to committee, we ask for unanimous consent to approve this quite excellent bill and work to make it better.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands from the bottom of my heart for a heartfelt and highly accurate speech. I certainly agree that the Therapeutics Initiative is one of the best institutes in Canada for identifying safety risks around prescription drugs, and has been for some time. Her call for amendments to be bill, from my viewpoint, are more than welcome, and the Minister of Health has said she is willing to consider amendments. In my view, this is democracy at its best. It is a non-partisan issue and the minister is taking a non-partisan approach, so I am very pleased about that.

The member talked about fines of $5 million a day. The bill also includes the provision that when there is criminal negligence and a court saw that it needed to be addressed with a major fine, there could be unlimited fines. A judge could conceivably fine a big pharma company that committed criminal negligence the full amount of their sales for the period of time the drug was on the market.

We need Bill C-17 now, as soon as possible. We need it approved now at second reading to get it to the health committee, if the House approves. We can talk about those issues and hopefully get the bill passed by the end of June. We need to get it approved now. I am hoping that today, at the end of the hour, the parties will agree to send it to committee so that we can reduce the damage and the adverse drug reactions that patients might otherwise experience if we drag out this process.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 11:55 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am humbled by the very kind words of the member for Oakville. He knows this file better than anybody, at a personal cost that none of us should have to pay. We are in his debt.

I am certainly heartened that it is possible for the fines to be increased if the courts find criminal negligence causing death, but I think the minister should have the ability to raise the fines, rather than just having the ability for a judge down the road, at the judge's discretion, to apply the kinds of fines that will make big pharma recognize that Canada is not a country where they can play fast and loose with our health.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / noon
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague and I was very interested in the litany of fines that have been paid out by big pharma.

There was a real eye-opener for me one night when I was at a restaurant that a friend owned. The friend was putting on a dinner for doctors. It was a private function. Someone showed up at the door of the restaurant with an envelope containing $500 cash. The restaurant owner asked him what he was doing there, and he said he was paying for the booze. It was a salesman from a drug company.

The restaurant owner said, “I am sorry; this is not something I am supporting. You can leave if you are going to pay money to anybody to promote your drugs. If you want to promote your drugs, do it outside my premises”.

I was very shocked by that. I had no idea whether this was a common practice or not, but it certainly struck me.

I ask my hon. colleague if she could drill down a bit more for people listening to this debate about the kinds of fines that have been paid by these companies, because these fines really raise questions about basic standards of putting public interest ahead of the very large profit margins that may be at stake.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / noon
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish the story of the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay about someone showing up with an envelope full of cash was unusual in this business. I was shocked to hear from experts in the Therapeutics Initiative, and this is a stunning statistic, that for every doctor in Canada, there are three drug salesmen. There are conferences. A seminar on a new drug happens to be held in Hawaii.

In his book, the hon. member for Oakville tells a story that I found at page 253. In referring to his time as a member of the provincial legislature in Ontario, he writes:

The Big Pharma lobbyists are nice people. They have a job to do. And in most cases it includes spreading around a lot of money. They do it subtly. There is no quid pro quo. “Hey, if I buy you dinner...will you speak up to help get our drug approved...?” But before you finish the last bit of your beef tenderloin, you will have heard the marvellous story of how their drug keeps patients out of the hospital and saves the taxpayers hundreds of millions.

There is the pressure from the pharmaceutical lobby and the quite inappropriate distribution of gifts. As the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay said, the fact is that there is a litany. I did not mention Abbott, which blocked 23 states from obtaining a cheaper alternative to their cholesterol drug. They were fined $22.5 million in 2010 for blocking jurisdictions in the U.S. from accessing a cheaper version of the drug that works just as well.

Let us pull back the blinds on the pharmaceutical industry, which spends more money to find a cure for baldness than it does to deal with malaria. Let us look at the profit motive, which is insidious, and find more ways to get generics out there. Let us look very closely at trade agreements like CETA and the trans-Pacific trade partnership and see what that is doing to advance the profits of pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the people they are supposed to be curing.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / noon
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate my colleague's comments. The member for Timmins—James Bay also emphasized prevention.

Every year, 150,000 Canadians experience serious reactions to prescription drugs. We have been waiting for this bill for a long time. The Liberals were in power for 13 years, and they did nothing to ensure that drugs in Canada are safe.

Given that 19.8% of the new active ingredients approved by Health Canada between 1995 and 2010 later became the subject of serious warnings, does my colleague think that this bill will address all of our concerns? Is there any way this bill can be improved?

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / noon
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing.

I completely agree with her. There is no doubt that Bill C-17 is very important. This is a brave step forward in the interest of everyone's well-being.

However, we have to improve it, and I hope we can do that quickly. I believe everyone here agrees on that. The minister herself even said that she is ready to accept amendments.

We have to take decisive action against dangerous drugs. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to make sure this bill is as strong as possible.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is really an important piece of legislation. As we said, it has been a long time coming. The Liberals certainly did not act on this issue. Given that we see a government that is going in the right direction but that sometimes thinks that what it has put forward is the be-all and end-all, it is again important to indicate that there needs to be oversight with respect to the amendments that will be put forward. Certainly our party is willing to put amendments forward once it goes to committee, but we should not be rushing legislation in the House just so it can get to committee for discussion and have the government members not even look at those amendments. Those are extremely important.

I know that my colleague is well aware of the Auditor General's report in 2011 on this issue, but I am asking if she thinks the bill is comprehensive enough. I am sure her answer will be “Of course not, because we have talked about amendments”, but maybe she can elaborate a bit on some of the other safety aspects that we should be putting in place.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 12:05 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the comprehensiveness of the bill, it certainly addresses a lot of the right areas, and a lot will remain to be done by regulation.

We want to see the transparency that I referred to around all trials. All drug trials should be registered and their results made public. We want to see transparency around Health Canada's decisions on whether it is going to allow a drug or not, around the area of fines, and around drug recalls. We need to have much better information on the side effects of prescription drugs. As well, the labelling should be as clear as possible so that anyone with a prescription drug is able to see, without having to search out secondary materials, whether there are significant side effect risks with this drug.

Those pieces are coming in subsequent regulations, but when we go to committee, we will study it more closely. We are in somewhat of a hurry, because the sooner we act, the more Canadians can be protected from drugs that they never would have used if they had known of their health risks.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be in the House today to debate Bill C-17 at second reading, which is an opportunity to talk about the bill in principle before it goes to committee.

Before I begin my remarks, I just want to note that although we give numbers to bills, this bill has been referred to as “Vanessa's law”. I want to pay tribute to our colleague on the other side of the House, the member for Oakville, for the incredible work he has done around drug safety, not only in his own constituency but also nationally, across the country. It is appropriate that the bill be named Vanessa's law and that it be a reminder to us all of what can happen when we do not have adequate legislation around drug safety in this country.

I am glad we are debating this bill. I have been told by some of my colleagues that a number of the government members are quizzing the opposition as to why this bill is not being rushed through. I want to begin with that point, because it is a familiar strain to hear.

The government introduced this bill back in December, I believe, but it did not come into the House for debate until March. When it came up for debate, it was a Friday afternoon, so it had maybe an hour of debate. This is the only opportunity that has come forward. Therefore, any suggestion that we have to rush this bill through or that somehow the opposition is holding this bill up is absurd and not based on reality, because it is the government itself that has dragged its feet on this bill.

We have said continually that we believe the bill should go to committee, but I am aware that some of my colleagues want to speak to this bill in principle at second reading, which is as it should be. I hope that it will go to committee soon so that the Standing Committee on Health can get into the bill, call witnesses, and examine it more closely.

I wanted to get that out of the way before we talk about the substance of the bill. It irks and irritates me that we so often hear this refrain that something has been slowed down or is not going fast enough when it is the government's own calendar and timetable that have pre-empted a bill being in the House.

We have had very minimal debate on this bill. Let us be clear about that. We do need to have debate at second reading. Second reading is here for a purpose. It is here for all members of Parliament to debate a bill in principle and get an overall understanding of it before it goes to committee and gets wedged into the clause-by-clause process.

Therefore, I am happy to be speaking today at second reading on Bill C-17, which would amend the Food and Drugs Act.

For the record, a number of my colleagues who have spoken to the bill and I as the health critic for the NDP, the official opposition, have said that we think this bill is a good first step in protecting the health of Canadians and improving the gaps in the current drug safety legislation. The bill is long overdue. When I say “long overdue”, I mean decades.

I read an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal a couple of months ago presented by Matthew Herder, Elaine Gibson, Janice Graham, Joel Lexchin, and Barbara Mintzes, who happens to be a researcher who lives in my community in east Vancouver. It was a good analysis of this bill and it was interesting to read their analysis.

It begins by pointing out something that people have probably forgotten, because it is one of those historical stories that happened long ago, but it had a profound effect on the lives of children, families, and Canadians overall. In their analysis, they begin by pointing out that Canada was the last developed country in the world to remove thalidomide from the market. To do that required an act of Parliament. That was in 1962. There are those of us here who remember hearing about the devastating consequences and catastrophic effects of that drug and what it did to children and families. Therefore, it is incredible that it required a specific act of Parliament to withdraw that particular drug. In fact, the two manufacturers voluntarily withdrew the drug from the market in March 1962.

However, that legislation stopped short of granting legal authority to the director at the health branch to unilaterally recall drugs, even though officials recognized that the co-operation of the manufacturer to recall a drug from the market could not be solely relied on.

Here we are, more than 50 years later, and we still have this gaping hole in Canada's Food and Drugs Act. We still have a huge issue around drug safety. Certainly, Health Canada is a regulator. It is meant to analyze new drugs that come on the market and approve them. Astoundingly, however, the federal government has never had the power to actually recall a drug. It has to negotiate around that.

There are many examples over the years where we have seen consequences from minor to serious to catastrophic to death because of this lack of oversight and based on the principles of caution and safety of Canadians. We are very glad to see that the bill would allow the minister to recall drugs. It would give fairly extensive powers, which is very important.

I want to give some broader oversight. A number of issues related to the bill are also very important.

I just quoted from an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. While they support Bill C-17, they outline the need for at least six critical elements to be looked at and hopefully examined and added to the bill. All these people are experts. They are very involved in the issue of drug safety in Canada, and have done a lot of analysis not only on this bill, but on the reality of drug safety in Canada. I would like to spend a little time going over those elements.

By way of backdrop, we should be aware that even the Auditor General, in 2011, warned consumers, the government and all of us as legislators that consumers were not receiving proper safety warnings about pharmaceutical drugs fast enough because Health Canada was so slow to act on the potential issues that it identified. That was a pretty serious matter, and it took the Auditor General making a public report to flag the issue of drug safety. In that report, the time lag was characterized as very serious. It noted that it meant people sometimes had to wait more than two years before Health Canada completed a drug safety review of a product already on the market and provided updated information about the risks.

As the Interim auditor general noted at the time, “I think two years is too long”, and we certainly agree with that point.

That same 2011 audit also found there were gaps in the transparency about drug information. In fact, it is really keeping Canadians in the dark about Health Canada's drug safety work. There has been an issue about clinical trials and the lack of information that is being provided, which has been a long-standing issue.

We should note that in many other countries, information around clinical trials is provided so researchers, medical practitioners and consumers alike can make themselves aware, if they want to, about a product, particularly at the clinical trial level, and this is very important.

I know the minister recently made announcements about providing better information. Again, this is a good step, but it is very important to have this as part of a legislative package to ensure there is transparency in the work of Health Canada.

What do we have to hide? We should have nothing to hide. This information is critical to the health and safety of Canadians and to the medical community. It is also critical to health researchers who examine new products that are coming on to the market and the kind of testing and clinical trials that have been done.

We should always be on the side of transparency, of accountability and of advocating for much greater safety measures. If this means some of the procedures become more complicated for the manufacturers or they have to go through other steps, so be it. What is paramount and what is the first order of the day is patient and drug safety. Certainly the bill will help in this regard, but more needs to be done.

Here are some of the other issues that hopefully will be examined at committee. Although the bill calls for mandatory reporting measures for health care institutions, we really need to look at not so much the issue of adverse reactions, but the failure of Health Canada to follow up on them, which the bill does not do.

Again, there is a huge issue in safety, adverse reactions and what kind of process is in place to ensure this is properly followed up on by Health Canada so we have a continuum. There should be a seamless process that is clear and transparent for Canadians, for people who are interested in this issue to know they do not have to keep digging deeper and deeper to try to figure out a little information here and there, or if an adverse reaction is reported, will it be followed up. These things should be taking place as a matter of course. These things should be fundamentally inherent in the Health Canada process. Unfortunately, we have seen these gaps and so it becomes a bit of a patchwork approach that simply has failed. This system has not been a great model for drug safety for Canadians.

This is one element of the bill that needs to be looked at because it does not deal with the failure of Health Canada to follow up on adverse reactions. Nor does the bill deal with the issue regarding off-label prescriptions for drugs for adults and the risks this may pose.

The bill impacts prescribing off-label drugs to children, which is a step in the right direction. As we know, the practice of off-label prescriptions means a prescription is used for another use than originally intended, which is often totally legitimately. However, the need for oversight on the safety of off-label prescriptions is really important. This question requires some examination.

I have spoken about access to public information, about drug trials and the need for additional drug testing as to why medications are considered safe or not. These are some of the questions that need to be examined at committee. We have to go through the system step-by-step and really examine where there are gaps are holes. We will have to question the officials very closely on this. None of us are particularly expert on this, but we will have to try to navigate that process as best we can. Then we will have to look at the bill and layer it over that process and determine what holes still exist and what gaps, problems and issues have not been identified and dealt with in the bill. I have named a few.

Certainly another issue is the question of labelling. We are very concerned that there needs to be a much better communications system set up between doctors, pharmacists and patients for communicating and reporting on risks. If we have a good system in place, if an adverse report has been made and if we know there is a risk, how can we ensure there is a better communication of those risks, either through labelling or how the medical community addresses this?

In fact, this has been a big issue at the Standing Committee on Health in recent months. We looked at the whole question of prescription drugs and how they could be either misused, mis-prescribed or abused.

These drugs can save lives, help people heal and get better, but they can also kill if they are not used properly. We heard many stories and examples about prescription drugs and the lack of information, or a heavy-duty selling job by a pharmaceutical company or not enough transparency and information about safety concerns or adverse effects of it affecting people.

Unfortunately, there are too many tragedies. There are too many cases of people suffering from adverse effects of prescription drugs because of improper prescribing or, worst case, of a fatal overdose and death.

This is a very important. In fact, we need some sort of national database that effectively communicates between the different parts of the health system. We have a complex health system, but there is a federal role, which is to provide leadership and give overall oversight on patient and drug safety.

Health care is delivered at a provincial level, and many players involved. At the end of the day, there has to be some federal responsibility. While I am glad the Minister of Health has understood and been clear that this issue needs to be addressed, we have a long way to go, not only in drug safety but in oversight of our health care system and ensuring there is proper communication between different parts of our health care system.

Joel Lexchin of York University, a real expert on drug safety and someone who has been before the Standing Committee on Health since I have been there, said that Bill C-17 was a step forward for Canada's drug safety legislation. However, he also expressed concern that the legislation did not go far enough and that Canadians still needed to know about the evaluation process that determined whether medications were safe enough to be sold in Canada.

I look forward to this going to committee. We support the bill at second reading. It is an important first step, but more needs to be done. I hope that when the bill gets to committee, we can actually look at it in good faith and look at it on its merit to determine the elements of the bill that are in good order, approve them and sent them back to the House for approval. However, I hope we also look at the bill with a critical eye. Surely that is what we are here to do.

Unfortunately, over the last few years I have seen amendments shot down at committee just because they came from the opposition. I really hope that does not happen. I know there are colleagues who care deeply about the bill and I know that at the end of the day we want to see the best bill we can.

I appeal to the members that when we get to committee, we look at its merits and at what we can do to make the bill better, to answer some of the concerns. There is overall broad support, but there are issues and concerns. Let us address those. Let us look into that and work in good faith to ensure the bill is the best it can be. We will then have done a good job.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with great interest to my colleague. She has such immense experience in the issues of the need for a national health care strategy in this country and the need for the federal government not to walk away from its long-standing role in the delivery of health care.

I would like to ask my colleague about the issue of prescribing practices.

I raised the issue earlier of when OxyContin was first put on the market. In Ontario, in particular, I noticed that it was being prescribed for all manner of reasons. People who would go in with a back problem or people who would go in for surgery were being prescribed sometimes large amounts of OxyContin. The impacts, the very addictive impacts of this drug, were not fully explained to the physicians who were prescribing, and it was certainly not explained to the people who received it. We saw spikes of addictions all across the spectrum of society. People ended up becoming addicted to this very addictive drug because there had not been the proper explanations. In the end, there was certainly a backlash on the whole use of OxyContin.

The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health has an optimal use program around the issue of prescribing and awareness amongst doctors.

There is an attempt to raise awareness, but there are concerns that there is not enough work being done to ensure that physicians are fully informed, independent of the drug companies' claims, of the potential impacts before they start to prescribe.

I would like to ask what my hon. colleague thinks of this.

Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law)Government Orders

May 27th, 2014 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very important question. In fact, this is specifically one of the issues that the Standing Committee on Health looked at just a couple of months ago. I can tell members that we heard some pretty disturbing testimony. For example, we heard from researchers who told us that they went to so-called “educational sessions” that were paid for by pharmaceutical companies; that they were really about the promotion of a particular drug; and that then they would get, not a diploma, but some sort of certificate to say that they had gone to this educational session and that it was A-okay, green light ahead. Yet, of course, as the member points out, we have seen some really disturbing situations with OxyContin. It is a very powerful drug.

I have to say that pain management is a very important thing. It is a huge issue in this country. There are many people who are living with severe pain. In fact, there is a group called Canadian Pain Coalition that works on this every day. It is very concerned about ensuring that bona fide drugs are available for pain management.

However, there is a critical issue about prescribing practices and ensuring that drugs are being used for the appropriate setting with a patient and that the prescriptions are not just being ripped off the prescription pad; and of course in other circumstances people are actually selling the drug or abusing it themselves.

It is a huge issue, and I am very glad the member raised it, because I do not think we have really gotten to the bottom of it yet.