Finding veggie medicines can be tricky. Only a quarter of the most commonly prescribed drugs are free from lactose, gelatine, or magnesium stearate. Donald Watson, founder of The Vegan Society did not take medicines himself and at 93 was quoted as saying: "I've gone through a long life, virtually without pain or illness, or any kind of medicine, orthodox or fringe." [The Guardian, 14/01/2006].
In 2015 we asked readers of VfL's eBites magazine about their experiences with medicines. Here are some of their thoughts.
"When I ask my GP whether the meds are vegetarian he/she never knows. I have to ask every time I go, so I’m not sure why my vegetarianism is not recorded. If it’s capsules then I open them and mix with jam to make sure the dose goes straight to where it should go. If this is not possible (I do ask) then I do without.” Linda Shaw.
“When you are sick, you may not have time or resources to demand a vegetarian treatment if this is not (readily) available. However, we absolutely should work on influencing drug manufacturers in the long term. I have found a local pharmacist helpful. She offered to mark my file, so if a prescription came through in future they would give me a call and liaise with my doctor regarding a vegetarian alternative. My doctor was professional but I sensed that he was frustrated by yet another constraint to work within. Over-the-counter medicines is a whole other issue. Full ingredient/excipient lists are often buried in leaflets sealed within the packaging. In this case, I’ve had to refer to a manufacturer’s website.” Tamsin Pearson.
“I have chronic Lyme disease – I was bitten by a tick. I now have to take long-term antibiotics and various other supplements. Some of my prescribed supplements are free from unwanted additives and come in veggie capsules – such as Pure Encapsulations. But many are not. Gelatine capsules seem to be standard. Without antibiotics, my health deteriorates quite quickly. I don’t like being forced to use animal by-products in my medication. I suspect persuading the pharmaceutical industry to use veggie capsules would be an uphill task, but worthwhile in the end.” Lesley Fraser.
V for Life, as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vegetarianism and Veganism, has been working to press the government to take the concerns of vegans and vegetarians seriously when it comes to medicines. We are calling for mandatory labelling of animal-derived ingredients in labelling, and for a requirement to switch to plant-based alternatives to such ingredients wherever viable for new medicines.
In the last year, we have worked to raise questions in Parliament, and held a meeting in Parliament on exploring the issue and promoting ways forward to improve things. You can help keep up the pressure by writing to your MP if this issue is important to you. You can also ask your pharmacist to prescribe medication that is suitable for your healthcare and vegan-friendly; this should be prescribed provided there is no reasonable ground for refusing to do so.