Drug Pushers

January 7, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’m in Florida visiting my mother. When I go to make out a shopping list, I notice that every pad of paper, every post-it, every pen, carries the logo and name of some drug – bounty from visits to doctors.

But that will all stop now. The drug companies aren’t admitting that the freebies they lavish on doctors have tainted the practice of medicine. But even though there’s nothing wrong with treating doctors to these gewgaws or the sandwiches for the office staff and nice dinners for the docs, Big Pharma has vowed to stop it.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's new rules for interacting with health care professionals:
• No branded pens, pads, mugs or other “leave behinds”
• No tickets to theaters or sporting events.
• No “dine and dash” meals dropped off in doctor's offices.
• No expensive dinners out at restaurants.

Big deal. I doubt that the mugs and pens were swinging much weight. These are doctors, after all. They’re not going to toss you a Manhattan-worth of drug sales for $24 worth of trinkets. No, the real problem is the money for speeches and “research.” Not only are these fees much heftier. More important, the speeches and research don’t look like corporate PR. They keep the large hand of the drug company hidden behind the curtain. There’s no sales rep pushing a product. Instead, it’s one doctor informing other doctors, colleague to colleague.

This money from Big Pharma corrupts the practice of medicine, and it corrupts research. Take a look at the article by Marcia Angell in the current New York Review of Books, (ungated, at least for now, here). Here’s the money quote.
It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.


Anonymous said...

Preach, brother!

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head. It is sick how far the drug industry has gone to sell their meds. If pharma would practice honest tactics, put more money into R&D than into advertising, they would make just as much money because they would earn our trust and be liked by all. Instead, they take the sleazy way out.

Jay Livingston said...

Andy -- I did literally laugh out loud (or at least chuckle, but there's no COL in the lexicon) when I saw your comment. I hadn't realized I was getting so preachy.

Online -- thanks, and I'll be sure to consult your website before I fill my next Rx.