Even if one uses a medical drug properly, side effects cannot be ruled out. Thirty years have passed since the system to provide relief for sufferers from drug side effects was established in Japan. People should know more about this system and use it when necessary.

Drug-induced suffering such as SMON (subacute myelo-optico-neuropathy) — caused by chinoform, a drug for intestinal disorders — as well as the births of thalidomide babies prompted the establishment of the relief system in 1980. Sufferers can receive relief without filing lawsuits. Government subsidies and contributions from some 750 pharmaceutical companies support the system, which is administered by the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA).

In the case of death from side effects, the bereaved family receives either a pension or a one-time payment. Sufferers of serious disability also receive a pension. Those hospitalized receive medical allowances. The relief is a sort of social welfare. The health ministry screens applications and decides on the applicants’ eligibility.

Every year the ministry receives reports on some 30,000 cases of side effects, some 2,000 of them resulting in death. In fiscal 2009, the number of applications for relief topped 1,000 for the first time — only 3.3 percent of the reported number of cases of side effects. Some 50 cases involved death.

Since the start of the system through fiscal 2009, some 7,600 people have received relief. Accumulated benefits have totaled ¥22.6 billion. In recent years, about ¥1.8 billion has been paid out each year. The problem with the system is that very few people know about it. A PMDA survey in 2009 indicates that only about 5 percent of ordinary citizens know about the system. Even among medical professionals and workers, the percentage is about 37 percent.

For consultation regarding relief for side effects, one should phone 0120-14-9931.

A rise in the number of applications will eventually lead to more efforts on the part of drugmakers to reduce side effects. The relief system does not cover some types of drugs, including anticancer drugs. The system should be improved to widen its coverage.

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