12 May 2017

Hepatitis C sufferers demand doctors get them life-saving drug

10:16 am on 12 May 2017

Hepatitis C sufferers in Dunedin are demanding hospital specialists help them bring in a life-saving drug from overseas.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The debilitating liver disease is curable in 95 percent of cases with new generation direct-acting antiviral drugs, including one called Harvoni.

The Pharmac subsidised medication Harvoni costs about $1000 a pill and is funded only for patients near death, so many people are buying a much cheaper generic substitute through a drug buyers club based in Tasmania.

Dunedin based patient advocates said Southern DHB's specialists have refused to let patients know of this option, or provide them with a prescription.

Hazel Heal, who has taken the generic drug and was cured of hepatitis C, has led a campaign to allow others to have access to the cheaper medication.

She said it was made by the same company that makes Harvoni.

"They're only going to counterfeit real Harvoni because that's worth $80,000. They don't put fake meds in a box for $1500."

As an admin of a group with 6000 members that is in contact with other groups, she said she was aware of potentially 20,000 people who had taken the drugs, and there was not a single case of counterfeit generics.

But the DHB is defending its stance, saying doctors cannot realistically guarantee the quality and safety of unapproved medication purchased abroad.

It said importing prescription drugs may be legal but it bypasses the regulator, Medsafe, which has the job of ensuring medicines are acceptably safe.

The DHB's chief medical officer of health, Nigel Millar, said doctors would be personally accountable for the safety of the drug as it is not approved by Medsafe.

"The source of supply is not through the normal channels, it doesn't have the normal guarantees around reliability and safety and there's always a possibility of poor manufacturing practices or even substitution in some point of the supply chain, because the supply chain for medications needs to be really tight."

Most other District Health Boards will provide the prescriptions.