In a country where health care has only recently lost political ground to the environment, any changes to the Hippocratic apparatus are bound to draw attention, both fearful and hopeful.
Such is the case with Bill C51, a federal proposal that would update and amend the dusty pages of the Food and Drug Act. The bill, which has gone through second reading, will regulate natural health products, a prospect that has doomsayers branding Canada as a police state operating at the behest of lobbyists and supporters looking forward to a renewed framework for managing those products.
Dr. Jennifer Moss found herself teetering towards a more measured version of the former when she first found out about the bill. She has a natural health practice just off the highway in Garibaldi Highlands. “I think in the beginning, people got freaked out and scared,” she said. “As more time has gone by, more information has come from my association.”
She’s referring to the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND), and they’ve been seated at the government table during consultations. The industry’s primary worries revolve around terminology and access. To boot, there are differences between provincial and federal definitions that CAND would like clarified. One term drawing concern is “therapeutic product,” which industry professionals say is vague enough to slot natural health products in with pharmaceuticals. That term could alter completely the way natural health products are manufactured and sold.
Another problem term is “practitioner,” which, at the moment, doesn’t include natural health doctors and so clamps their prescribing powers.
“Our concerns with Bill C51 are that natural health doctors may have difficulty in continuing to access all the natural substances they utilize and have utilized with their patients for years,” said CAND’s executive director, Shawn O’Reilly. “Under the bill, some of those natural health products may be designated as prescription therapeutic products, which would take them out of the hands of naturopathic doctors, as currently they don’t have prescribing rights in any products.”
That has Moss worried. Take St. John’s wart, something Moss recommends often to combat light depression because it raises serotonin levels. “Under the bill, it could be designated a prescription.”
David K. Lee has been working with Health Canada on C51 as director in the office of patented medicines and liaison. In an interview with Pique Newsmagazine , Lee acknowledged apprehension surrounding the “prescription therapeutics” handle.
“What was in the original proposal was an inclusion of the therapeutic products definition,” he said. “As we were trying to modernize the framework, we realized that, when you’re making proposals at the bill level, they cover a lot of the products underneath. ‘Drug’ had always included a number of products under it. It included pharmaceuticals, both over the counter and prescription, and natural health products. When they were written in five years ago, they were under the Food and Drug Act as a drug. We subsequently heard that it was inappropriate, in their view, to lump the natural health products in with drugs because it implies we’re taking a pharmaceutical approach to natural health products.”