Growing evidence base supports the uptake of complementary medicines

25th 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

“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.

“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.3

“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.4,5

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.

Full media release can be downloaded here:

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. National Health and Medical Research Council. Talking with your patients about Complementary Medicine – a Resource for Clinicians. 2014.

4. NHMRC. Research Funding Datasets 2003-2012.

5. Australian Self Medication Industry. Pre-Budget Submission 2014.

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