Canadians are “inadequately protected” by a Federal Food and Drugs Act, authors of a Canadian Medical Association Journal report have said, dubbing the law as a dusty relic.

Dr Paul Hébert and his co-authors have said new medicines such as rofecoxib (Vioxx) for arthritis and rosiglitazone (Avandia) for diabetes have been released based on scant understanding of the safety of the drug compounds.

At the same time, older drugs are allowed to continue on the market virtually without oversight, the report says.

“Governments have promised to modernise Canada’s antiquated laws governing therapeutic drugs since 1995 — only to balk on the threshold of change, at best tinkering around its edges,” said Hébert.

“This leaves Health Canada with the Herculean task of ensuring that both old and new medications are as safe as they are effective without the powers, regulatory tools or resources to do so.”

The authors stated that the partnership between Health Canada and Canadian Institutes of Health Research will be an important step toward more effective safety measures, but they lack the money needed to determine the real risks and comparative benefits of prescription drugs.

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Now another attempt to modernise Canadian health laws is underway, starting with a new round of consultations and testimony from experts.

Hébert explained, “The upcoming federal election offers a chance to spur government action, or at least extract promises from federal parties to create a food and drug act that will do everything possible to ensure medications, new and old, are safe and effective.”