The Trusted Claims of Complementary Medicine
Australia Watchdog Considers Complementary Medicine Disclaimer
AUSTRALIAs therapeutics watchdog is considering requiring alternative medicines to contain an ''untested'' disclaimer on their labels. The move, opposed by the alternative medicines industry, follows six years of failed attempts to develop a scheme requiring alternative medicine products to reveal evidence of their therapeutic properties.
The Therapeutics Goods Administration has told the Herald the provision of the disclaimer on labels was under ''active consideration''. Many people are thought to believe that as the remedies are registered by the administration, they have been officially tested. That is true of only a small number of the 10,000 complementary and alternative products on the market.
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The Australian National Audit Office released a report last week that revealed surveys showing the agency had failed for years to counter widespread use of deceptive and misleading advertising of complementary and alternative medicines.
The report stated the federal government announced a policy in 2005 requiring the publication of evidence of the alleged therapeutic powers of alternative products. But the administration had failed to do so. ''Obtaining evidence of efficacy of listed complementary medicines has been a difficult issue,'' the report said. While most products are safe, if often ineffective, research last year identified 39 reports of adverse events associated with such products, including four deaths in the previous two years. Problems include failure to use conventional medicine and harmful interactions with other drugs. A separate survey found that fewer than half of traditional herbal medicine users were aware of potential risks associated with their use.
Echinacea has been linked to more than 20 types of reactions, including asthma, hives, swelling, aching muscles and gastrointestinal upsets. Remedies such as St. John's wort and ginkgo, when used with some other conventional medicines, have found to trigger side-effects including circulatory disorders.
The Consumer Health Forum chief executive, Carol Bennett, supported the label testing disclaimer, the lack of which could be seen as unethical given community ignorance about testing.
A spokeswoman for the Therapeutics Goods Administration said the agency ''is supportive of moves to inform the community that low risk, complementary medicines are not tested by the TGA for efficacy''.
The executive director of the Australian Self Medication Industry, Deon Schoombie, said there was no evidence the label measure would result in better consumer understanding.
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