Back in May, PAL awarded one of our coveted Bitter Pill Awards to GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), for its marketing of alli, an Over-the-Counter version of Xenical, a prescription weight loss drug. In our ‘With Allies Like This, Who Needs Enemas?’ Award, we called attention in particular to the risk that making this drug available Over-the-Counter would result in its being used by people for whom it was not appropriate or even dangerous, particularly children and teenagers.
Australia wisely banned Roche Pharmaceuticals from advertising Xenical directly to consumers. (GlaxoSmithKline distributes the Over-the-Counter version of Xenical in the U.S. under a licensing agreement with Roche), particularly after Roche ran an ad during Australian Idol, a show that particularly attracts a teenage audience. Roche challenged the ban in Australian Federal Court. The Age reported on August 30, 2007 that the Court has upheld the ban.
As The Age reported, Roche had made this rather laughable argument in its court filings:
Roche challenged the advertising ban in the Federal Court, arguing members of the National Drugs and Poisons Scheduling Committee had acted against the interests of public health.
In Australia, the drug is available without a prescription, but only “Behind the Counter.” This means that a customer must specifically request it from the pharmacist, who “are legally required to measure customers body mass index and age before supplying the drug.” Even with this requirement, the Australian consumer group Choice sent a young woman with a healthy weight into a sampling of drug stores to request Xenical, and found that 24 out of 30 pharmacies dispensed it to her inappropriately.
In the U.S., the drug is only approved for use by people who are both over 18 and overweight, but there are not requirements in place to prevent pharmacies from selling it to people who are younger, or who are not overweight.