Charity declares today 'Know Your Drugs Day' in Canada

A charitable organization wants Canadians to research the possible side effects and interactions of the prescription drugs they take.

Canadians for Vanessa's Law is calling Monday "Know Your Drugs Day" in Canada.

And it is directing Canadians to a website, RxlSK, owned by a Toronto company, Data Based Medicine Americas Ltd., to get detailed information.

The day comes exactly three years after Vanessa's Law, a federal piece of legislation aimed at protecting Canadians from harmful drugs, received royal assent on Nov. 6, 2014.

"People assume that their doctors make the right decisions all the time with prescription drugs, but the truth is, they don't get the information they need from the drug companies because basically it's bad for sales," says Terence Young, a former MP for Oakville, Ont.

Young's 15-year-old daughter, Vanessa, died in March 2000 from an adverse reaction to Prepulsid, a drug she had been prescribed on and off for about a year to treat a mild form of bulimia.

"We came home from shopping on a Saturday and she came down from her room to negotiate her evening activities with me and stood up and fell down, dead, her heart stopped, on the floor, on the carpet. We had no idea that there was any risk to this drug," Young said.

No drug warning given before Vanessa died

"We called the emergency crews in, they took her to the hospital, she was unconscious, they were never able to revive her. They didn't get her heart started for 20 minutes and she died the next day in hospital.

"Neither Vanessa, she was 15 years old, nor her parents, us, got any safety warning from any doctor. And over that year, four doctors knew she was taking Prepulsid. It was already officially responsible for 80 deaths due to heart arrhythmia, which is what she died from."

Young, chair of an organization called Drug Safety Canada, told Metro Morning on Monday that every year, an estimated 10,000 Canadians die in hospital due to prescription drugs used properly and another 10,000 die outside of the hospital due to prescription drugs used improperly, whether through errors, the wrong drug being prescribed or overdose.

"Probably over half are preventable," he said. "That's why Vanessa's Law was written."

Young said Know Your Drugs Day is important because the public needs to be aware of the dangers of prescription drugs.

David Carmichael, executive director of Canadians for Vanessa's Law, said in a news release that adverse drug reactions are the fourth leading cause of death after heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Carmichael said many deaths and injuries could be prevented if consumers, parents, guardians, and caregivers had more knowledge.

"The true risks of prescription drugs are simply not getting through to patients," he said.

Health Canada regulations still in the works

Under Vanessa's Law, Health Canada can order a dangerous drug off the market, order a pharmaceutical company to revise labels to clearly reflect health risk, and can order new tests on a drug.

The law also requires mandatory adverse drug reporting by health care institutions.

Young alleged that Health Canada is not enforcing the law, saying that regulations drafted by the department "all undermine the bill" by gutting its powers.

David Lee, chief regulatory officer at Health Canada, told Metro Morning that the law gave more powers to the federal health minister upon royal assent.

For example, the government can recall drugs considered harmful and can order a company to change a label.

"Vanessa's Law represents a huge step forward in drug safety for the country," he said.

Hospitals asked to report on drug performance

Lee said federal resources have been dedicated to create regulations and they are still works in progress.

"It's rare for regulations to be done quickly, in the sense that it only takes a year. Usually, regulations do take a few years to do. There are a few packages that have been in the works. There have been consultations," Lee said.

"Vanessa's Law is quite large. It spans across a lot of different policy areas. So we've had teams working on each one of them within the department. We can't predict exact timelines, but we aspire to get quite a bit out of it in the next couple of years."

For example, Lee said Health Canada has asked hospitals to provide information on drug performance but obtaining that information is not done overnight.

"They're busy places and they're dedicated to treatment and care. We want physicians to balance their time."

In the meantime, Young urges Canadians to become informed.