ASMI says there is a growing evidence-base to support the uptake of complementary medicines

22 July 2014

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22 July 2014 - The Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) says there is a growing evidence base to support the use of complementary medicines, which are taken by two thirds of Australians.

This was in response to an article in the Australian, 'Hard to Swallow this Bitter Pill', which claimed that pharmacists should think twice about selling complementary medicines.
ASMI Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Director, Steve Scarff, said: "Complementary medicines play an important role in maintaining good health and preventing and treating illness. Millions of Australians have embraced complementary medicines as a way of treating short term ailments, preventing and managing chronic conditions and staying healthy.

"Complementary medicines in Australia have a history of traditional use or scientific evidence to demonstrate their efficacy. A number of clinical studies have provided evidence to support their use in both the prevention and treatment of illness, and economic studies in Australia and the US have demonstrated their role in reducing healthcare costs. 1,2

"Just a few examples are the use of Calcium and Vitamin D for osteoporosis, Omega-3 fish oil for heart disease, folate for pregnant women in preventing Spina Bifida, iron supplementation for anaemia, and the evidence to support St John's Wort for depression.
"Australians should be getting their essential nutrients from a healthy diet, but the reality is that many people are not meeting the recommended daily nutrient requirements. A study on the state of Australia's health, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), highlights that the typical consumer diet falls short on essential nutrients, with only 5.6 per cent of the adult population having an adequate intake of fruit and vegetables.3
"The ABS reported that only 4-6 per cent of children aged between five and seventeen years consumed the recommended serves of vegetables each day.4 In a national survey, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that children's intake of fruits and vegetables did not meet recommended intake levels. 5

"For those people with nutritional deficiencies, complementary medicines can play a key role in filling dietary gaps.

"If consumers are to have faith in the rapidly growing complementary medicines industry, there needs to be a high level of confidence, rigour and transparency around the way that complementary medicines are regulated and marketed, including the health claims that are made about individual products.

"ASMI has long argued for appropriate regulation of the sector, with more accurate and timely advice to the public that helps to protect consumers and the credibility of those products that are proven and evidence-based. Complementary medicines regulation needs to be rigorous but consistent with risk, timely and balanced, if it is to build consumer confidence.

"ASMI works closely with its members from the complementary medicines sector and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to support a regulatory framework that is commensurate to the risk posed by these products, protects consumers, and engenders trust in the medicines they use.

"Sponsors should be able to substantiate any claims they make. There are mechanisms in place to ensure that claims made about complementary medicines are accurate, balanced and not misleading. However, there is room for improvement in the regulation of complementary medicines and ASMI works with stakeholders to ensure this is approached in a measured way.

"It is important we recognise the place of complementary medicines, and support initiatives that help consumers to access evidence-based information so that they can make informed decisions.

We need to build confidence and give consumers and healthcare practitioners the capacity to choose the medicines that are appropriate for them. With this in mind, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recently launched a guide to help general practitioners to speak with their patients about complementary medicines.6

"It is also critical that the Federal Government invest in research to build the evidence base. The NHMRC allocations for research in complementary medicines have been low at 0.2 per cent of total funding over the past ten years. Given the widespread usage of complementary medicines, and the size and growth of the sector, NHMRC should commit at least 1 per cent of project funds annually to complementary medicines research priorities.7,8

Finally, governments need to remove regulatory obstacles such as lack of intellectual property protection that are inhibiting investment in research by sponsors of complementary medicines," said Mr Scarff.

About ASMI: The Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) is the peak body representing sponsors of non-prescription medicines - over-the-counter (OTC) and complementary medicines. Its members make up 85 per cent of the $4 billion self care market. Membership totals 60 companies and ASMI members employ approximately 18,000 people with exports estimated at $1.2 billion annually. ASMI's mission is to promote better health through responsible self care. This means ensuring that safe and effective self care products are readily available to all Australians at a reasonable cost. ASMI works to encourage responsible use by consumers and an increasing role for cost-effective self medication products as part of the national health strategy.

1. Access Economics. Cost Effectiveness of Complementary Medicine (Report). 2010.
2. Frost and Sullivan. Smart Prevention - Health Care Cost Savings Resulting from the Targeted Use of Dietary Supplements. 2013.
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Health Survey, October 2012.
4. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009. 2007-08 National Health Survey: Summary of Results.
5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2010. Australia's Health 2010. Australia's health series no. 12. Cat. no. AUS 122. Canberra: AIHW
6. National Health and Medical Research Council. Talking with your patients about Complementary Medicine - a Resource for Clinicians. 2014.
7. NHMRC. Research Funding Datasets 2003-2012.
8. Australian Self Medication Industry. Pre-Budget Submission 2014.