medicines – the safest way to avoid death
Dr Wallace Bain, Acting Chair of the
New Zealand Coroners' Council
Dr Wallace Bain, Acting Chair of the New Zealand Coroners'
Council, has just released this report into deaths caused
by natural health medicines in New Zealand.
He highlights the information in light of the push by the
New Zealand government for greater control over natural
medicines by way of legislation to create the Australia
New Zealand Therapeutics Products Authority (ANZTPA).
Natural medicines – the safest way to avoid death
A report just released by the Acting Chair of the
Coroner’s Council has shown natural medicines have the
lowest fatality rate of all medical treatments in New
Despite extensive research, coroner Dr Wallace Bain found
no deaths have occurred in New Zealand due to natural
medicines such as vitamins, minerals and herbal products.
Dr Bain, who is also a trained pharmacist and lawyer,
undertook the study in light of growing opposition to new
legislation that will see New Zealand’s natural health
industry come under Australian laws.
The safety of natural products is often sited as a reason
for the need for such a move.
The Labour government plans that the Australia New Zealand
Therapeutic Products Authority (ANZTPA) will soon replace
the current Medsafe agency as part of a `trans-Tasman
harmonisation’ push. Opponents fear this move will
decimate New Zealand’s natural health industry as has
already occurred in Australia.
At present lack of support from New Zealand First, the
Maori and Green parties is the only thing stopping the
legislation coming into effect.
Says Dr Bain: “In my capacity as Acting Chair of the
Coroner’s Council, I enquired of all Coroners as to
whether or not from a search of their Coronial findings
they could find any instances where there had been a
problem with any of these natural products.
“They were asked to provide any information from inquests
where these products had been involved whether or not a
death had resulted. At the same time the Coronial records
held by the Ministry of Justice in Wellington were
searched at my request by ministry staff.”
Dr Bain’s study returned a finding of zero deaths from
His only findings were:
* A three-year-old child who choked to death on a
vitamin tablet in 2003 that was too large for the child to
* A woman who terminated her third pregnancy after a scan
showed the foetus had spina bifida. The woman had been
taking 300mg of folic acid a day rather than the
recommended 800mg per day
* A man who died from non-viral hepatitis of unknown
origin who also had a pre-existing prostrate cancer
condition. The man had been taking an Indian herbal
product K4. The Corner’s report said despite no certainty
of a link with the herbal product, the remedy such be
banned until more was known about its effects on liver
* Some ongoing inquests into party pills
In contrast, deaths in 1998 (the last year of detailed
official statistics available) caused by adverse reactions
to pharmaceutical drugs killed 1524 New Zealanders and
deaths associated with medical injury (mistakes by doctors
and medical staff) killed 4222 New Zealanders.
Says Dr Bain: “A recent Australian study shows that 1 in
10 patients presenting to a general practitioner had an
adverse pharmaceutical drug event in the preceding six
months with 50% of those being in the moderate to severe
range and 8% requiring hospitalisation.
“A New Zealand study reported in July of 2006 and referred
to Parliament’s Health Committee pointed to previous
research suggesting problems such as hospital acquired
infection, drug error and staff mistakes are costing this
country around $870 million a year. This prompted the
Health Minister to ensure that District Health Boards gave
priority to reducing such adverse events – most clearly
identified as being drug induced.”
Also in Dr Bain’s report is mention of a US study that
puts complications resulting from medication errors in
American hospitals at $US1.5 billion dollars per year.
Studies also show that prescription drug errors double a
person’s risk of dying in hospital. Another study put the
cost of a single adverse drug event to a hospital in the
US at $US2,500.
“The estimate of costs incurred by US hospitals as a
result of drug-related injury or death was put at $US76.6
billion which was three times the cost of all diabetes
care in the United States,” says Dr Bain.
“What is ironic here is that what is being held out as a
justification for high regulation and compliance in the
area of complementary medicines and natural products in
New Zealand is public safety and risk. Despite a diligent
search of Coronial records and the literature, no
instances have been found to demonstrate that in fact
these products have any serious public health issue or
“The problem is clearly with prescription and other
drugs,” says Dr Bain. “The Coronial and literature
searches in so far as natural products are concerned and
linkages to public safety and risk can be described
legally as De minimis no curat lex. That is – of minimal
“The law does not and should not concern itself with such
Dr Bain’s report has been sent to Annette King.
Dr Bain is available for comment directly on 021 750 704
or via me, Kimberley Paterson on 09 4244218
or 0273 454570. You can also contact Dr Bain directly on
021 750 704
If you need more information, please contact me