May 31, 2004


'Make prescription drug safety an election issue; support the Standing Committee on Health,' say consumer health groups


This week, in a Canada-wide awareness campaign, a coalition of consumer health groups is calling on all federal candidates in the upcoming election to support recommendations by the Standing Committee on Health included in the report, Opening the Medicine Cabinet: First Report on Health Aspects of Prescription Drugs released in April.

Consumer health watch-dog groups Women and Health Protection and PharmaWatch join with DES Action Canada for DES Awareness Week – May 31 to June 4 – challenging candidates to raise the issues of prescription drug safety and effectiveness during this election campaign.

"We strongly support the Committee's recommendations to increase transparency for clinical trials, improve post-market surveillance and enforce the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs," says Anne Rochon Ford, coordinator at Women and Health Protection.  "During the election campaign, we want to hear from the candidates what they and their parties are willing to do to make these recommendations a reality."

PharmaWatch and Women and Health Protection both made submissions to the all-party Standing Committee on Health, supported by DES Action Canada and other organizations across the country.

"The Committee's report confirms what we have been saying – that Canada's system for reporting adverse effects needs increased resources to respond to consumer reports and to support greater transparency," says Colleen Fuller, president of PharmaWatch. "As the experience with the drug DES clearly illustrates, and as the Standing Committee also recognized, evidence submitted by consumers plays a key role in drug safety. But consumer reporting is inadequately supported and funded by Health Canada, something we'd like to see changed."

DES (diethylstilbestrol) was prescribed to 200,000 to 400,000 pregnant women across Canada between 1941 and 1971 in the mistaken belief that it prevented miscarriage. Marketed as a "wonder drug," DES remained on the market for 18 years after it was scientifically proven ineffective. The women prescribed DES and their offspring continue to suffer from adverse effects, decades after the initial exposure.

"Our members are acutely aware of the need for better post-market surveillance and the need to limit direct-to-consumer advertising," says Barbara Mintzes, health researcher and vice president of DES Action Canada. "Unfortunately, the legislative renewal process currently underway at Health Canada is heading in the opposite direction. Unless politicians take leadership, and make sure that public health is given priority over commercial interests, there's a risk that the Standing Committee's recommendations will be ignored."

Key recommendations from Opening the Medicine Cabinet:

The Standing Committee report is available at under the title Opening the Medicine Cabinet or contact the Clerk of the Standing Committee, Carmen DePape at (613) 995-4108 or E-mail at

DES Action Canada is the only non-profit consumer organization alerting the Canadian public and health professionals to the risks associated with the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES). DES Action Canada's mission is to identify, inform, provide support to, and advocate for people exposed to DES. The organization also works to prevent similar public health disasters and supports efforts to strengthen health protection in areas such as prescription drug testing and approval, post-marketing surveillance and drug advertising. For more information, visit

PharmaWatch was founded in 2001 to support "direct-from-consumer" reporting of adverse reactions to prescription drugs. PharmaWatch's goal is to highlight and validate consumer experiences and heighten consumer involvement in adverse drug reaction reporting. In addition to documenting these experiences, PharmaWatch aims to facilitate adequate post-market monitoring by the pharmaceutical industry and Health Canada. For more information, visit

Women & Health Protection (WHP) is a coalition of community groups, researchers, journalists and activists concerned about the safety of pharmaceutical drugs.  The group keeps a close watch over proposed changes in federal health protection legislation and examines the impact of those changes on women's health.  Their documents make clear recommendations to the government with a view to ensuring that Canadian legislation truly provides "health protection." For more information, visit

DES Awareness Week: May 31 to June 4, 2004

Media contacts:

Ellen Reynolds
DES Action Canada Victoria, BC
Tel: (250) 519-0497

Gloria Straccini
DES Action Canada Montreal,PQ

Anne Rochon Ford
Women & Health Protection
Tel: (416) 712-9459 Toronto, ON

Colleen Fuller
Tel: (604) 687-6613 Vancouver, BC


Copyright ©2006-2010 Women and Health Protection
Supported by the Women's Health Contribution Program,
administered by the Gender and Health Unit of Health Canada.

In partnership with The Canadian Women's Health Network.