Terence Young, MP for Oakville, Ont., has worked with the minister of health to bring forward Vanessa’s Law.
Vanessa was the 15 year-old daughter of Terence and his wife Gloria, who died of a heart attack due to a reaction she had to a prescription drug.
Vanessa had a mild form of bulimia and was prescribed a heartburn drug thought to be harmless. After his daughter’s tragic death, Terence went online to see what information he could find on the drug. To his surprise, in red lettering, the site warned not to prescribe the drug if the patient was vomiting and the risk notice was buried in drug-company labels. Eighty other people had already died due to reactions to the drug.
Young wrote a book called Death by Prescription, and he became an advocate demanding clearer warnings, requirements for hospitals and clinics to report adverse reactions to medications that kill thousands every year and, stiffer penalties for drug companies that cover-up the dangers.
In the U.S., a study found 106,000 people a year died in hospitals from reactions to drugs taken as prescribed. In Canada, that would be about 10,000 — the fourth biggest cause of death in North America.
Vanessa’s Law will allow Health Canada to order drugs off the market sooner, raise penalties for companies that keep unsafe drugs on the market from $5,000 a day to $5 million, and, call for jail time in criminal negligence cases. It would, for the first time, require hospitals and clinics to report adverse drug reactions.
Timely reporting of adverse drug reactions will save lives. Presently, the reporting only takes place when the number of fatalities becomes significant and the reaction to the drug obvious. This law will help to connect the dots.
Many drugs are safe and are lifesaving. The challenge is to weed out the drugs that pose a high risk to patients and make certain the level of risk does not outweigh the possible benefit.
As Terence said, “That’s a fantastic early warning system. For example, a new drug is on the market, and all of a sudden they’re doing a body count — but instead of waiting years to get the numbers, they’ll be getting them within a month.”
Terence has told me that he always wanted to make Vanessa’s death meaningful so others would not have to endure the great loss he and his wife experienced.
Vanessa would have been proud of her dad.
Colin Mayes is MP for Okanagan-Shuswap