The Eltroxin controversy: Risk and how actors construct their world

John Gardner, Kevin Dew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


In 2007, a new formulation of Eltroxin, a medicine used to treat hypothyroidism, was introduced into New Zealand. By the end of September 2008, there were just over 800 reports linking the new formulation to a range of adverse reactions: joint and muscle pain, weight gain and depression, conjunctivitis, skin rash, and visual disturbances. In response to the prevalence of reports of adverse reactions, an alternative medication, Goldshield, was approved and offered to the public at a subsidised rate. This was despite assurances that the new Eltroxin formulation was safe for use: Medsafe, the government agency responsible for regulating therapeutic products in New Zealand, and an independent medicines monitoring group, stated there was no medical or physiological basis for the supposed adverse reactions. Using media coverage, agency press releases, and meeting minutes of the agencies involved, the paper employs an Actor-Network Theory-based (ANT) approach to understand how the controversy arose, how it took the form it did, and how it was ultimately settled. We explored how, during the controversy, actors emerged, delineated themselves, and concurrently prompted other actors to do the same, as they defined and debated the nature of the risk of Eltroxin. By using an ANT approach, it is possible to illustrate how various actors, including the lay-public, collectively shape the activities of apparatuses that regulate and provide medicines. Thus, we believe such an analysis demonstrates the importance of using public controversies about health risk as an analytical focal point for understanding how various forces shape contemporary society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-411
Number of pages15
JournalHealth Risk and Society
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug regulation
  • Eltroxin
  • Risk
  • Risk communication
  • Risk management
  • Risk perception

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