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OTC drug advertising to jeopardise safety

Government medicines advisers have warned that a Department of Health policy to extend the advertising of over-the-counter medicine will jeopardise patient safety and increase GP workload.

The GPC echoed the view of the Medicines Commission, expressed in newly released minutes from its February meeting, that such a move would lead to patients inappropriately demanding that GPs give prescriptions for advertised medicines. The Commission also voiced concerns about drug interactions, particularly if a GP or pharmacist were unaware what else a patient was taking.

The Medicines Control Agency (now the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) put forward proposals in November to lift the ban on advertising OTC and pharmacy medicines in 13 disease areas, including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and rheumatic diseases.

Ministers are reviewing the recommendations, which include shifting widely prescribed drugs such as statins, ?-blockers, inhaled steroids, contraceptive pills and Viagra to OTC.

GPC prescribing chair Dr Peter Fellows, a GP in Lydney, Gloucestershire, said he was 'hesitant' about the proposals and warned advertising would have to be carefully controlled and ethical. 'We can't have a free-for-all ­ people can be very stupid when it comes to buying things OTC.'

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