Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to contribute to today's debate on prescription drugs, which are an important part of our health care system. In order for us to commit to a national pharmacare program, the necessary groundwork must be laid to support efficient management of pharmaceuticals in this country.
That is why I am pleased to be here today to talk about appropriate prescribing and use of drugs. Appropriate prescribing is an important component of our government's commitment to improving the affordability, accessibility and appropriate use of prescription drugs.
Significant increases in the use of prescription drugs to treat health problems have led to an increase in inappropriate use and unnecessary spending on these drugs.
Inappropriate prescribing for seniors comes with a specific set of concerns. More than 80% of Canadians over the age of 65 take at least one prescription drug regularly. In fact, one in three Canadians takes five or more medications a day. It is estimated that 37% of these prescription drugs are potentially harmful or ineffective, costing the health care system more than $400 million a year.
The World Health Organization estimated that in 2012, half of the world's drugs were either prescribed, dispensed, or sold inappropriately, and that half of all patients failed to take them correctly. A proper prescription aims to improve prescription drug use by ensuring that the right drug is prescribed to the right patient at the right time. Our government acknowledges that it is an important part of our health care system that we have to improve if we want to reduce waste, protect patients from unnecessary harm, and make progress in health care.
Patients seek prescription drugs when they are sick, and prescribers use their expertise to choose drug treatments for their patients. When prescribed and used appropriately, prescription drugs can prevent sickness, improve productivity and quality of life, reduce absenteeism, support mental health management, and even cure illnesses.
In fact, when appropriately prescribed and used, drugs are an essential part of clinical care. However, 50% of Canadians do not take their drugs exactly as prescribed. Furthermore, questionable prescribing practices lead to both inefficiency and waste. If they are not used appropriately, prescription drugs can cause serious harm and put additional pressure on other parts of the health care system.
According to the Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists, every year, drug non-compliance is the cause of 10% of all hospital admissions and 25% of hospital admissions for the elderly. Every year, 200 drugs are approved, and it is very difficult for prescribers to keep their knowledge up to date.
Many of the new drugs that are authorized for use in Canada each year come with higher price tags but very few additional clinical benefits compared to other less expensive drugs that are already on the market. The appeal of these new drugs may lure patients and prescribers into using them instead of existing drugs or other treatments that are more effective.
Unfortunately, our health care system does not always give prescribers the support they need in choosing the best drugs for their patients. In Canada, colleges of physicians and medical associations develop clinical guidelines to help with prescribing drugs. However, many of these guidelines are developed with the help of industry funding and are not subject to quality checks.
In budget 2017, we allocated additional funding to the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, or CADTH, to help support existing intergovernmental efforts to ensure that drugs are prescribed and used properly. That includes identifying best practices and promoting new implementation strategies for appropriate use.
CADTH is responding to the need for more guidance on prescribing practices by adapting its products and services. In the future, CADTH's appropriate use programs will include evidence-based prescribing guidelines and examine the comparative efficacy of non-pharmacological treatment options. For example, CADTH's review of first- and second-line pharmacological diabetes treatments meets the need for more sound evidence about categories of drugs, not one drug in particular. This will help prescribers select the right drug and optimize its therapeutic use.
In the past, our ability to address inappropriate prescribing was impeded by limited access to reliable national data on prescribing practices and the use of prescription drugs. Without that kind of data, our understanding of the problem and our ability to address it are limited. Without sound, objective evidence, programs to promote appropriate prescribing and repair the damage done by inappropriate use cannot be designed to focus on the areas of greatest need.
We responded to this challenge with federal investments in budget 2016 and budget 2017, so that Canada Health Infoway could work with the provinces and territories to develop a national electronic prescription program to allow health professionals who issue prescriptions and pharmacists to share information electronically.
This system, called PrescribeIT, will help reduce prescription errors, inform pharmacists of potentially dangerous drug interactions, and help patients take their medication as prescribed. Since it will be integrated into existing drug information systems in the provinces and territories, it will provide decision-makers with a more accurate overall picture of pharmaceuticals in Canada.
PrescribeIT is already in use in Ontario, where the first electronic prescription was sent to Huntsville on August 30. A number of organizations in the country are already working on appropriate use, and Canada has shown its capacity for developing tools and resources in order to create effective programs. What is missing is an active strategy to capitalize on the objectives and progress of existing organizations and programs. Such a strategy could help eliminate duplication of efforts in this domain, address important gaps, and ensure more effective intervention.
In order to help determine how international best practices could be adopted for developing such a strategy, Health Canada is now asking the Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network to conduct an in-depth analysis of international organizations responsible for the appropriate use of drugs.
At this stage, I would like to talk about two leading organizations recognized by the Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network, that were created over the past few years to address the issue of appropriate use in Canada, the Choosing Wisely campaign and the Canada Deprescribing Network.
Choosing Wisely is a campaign to help clinicians and patients engage in conversations about unnecessary tests and treatments, and make smart and effective care choices. To date, more than 40 medical specialists have made recommendations on inappropriate care, including the use of prescription drugs.
Recently, with the help of federal funding, these leading organizations were able to broaden the scope of their message across the country.
The Canada Deprescribing Network was established out of concern for the risk related to the use of medication by seniors. This group of clinicians, researchers, and patients work together to promote the deprescribing of medication that may no longer be of benefit or that may be causing harm. To date, the network has produced a number of resources, including guidelines on deprescribing the four drugs most commonly prescribed to seniors. These two leading organizations are working together with the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health in key areas for improving the care that Canadians receive by coordinating their work on the inappropriate prescription of drugs used to treat insomnia.
I am sure my colleagues will agree that improving the prescription and appropriate use of drugs is key to improving the effectiveness and sustainability of our health care system. On that, I am prepared to answer questions.