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Doctors Getting Paid To Market Drugs

Drug Marketing

Drug Marketing

A while back I wrote a post on a drug company, Eli Lilly, using ghost writers to write favorable articles and having doctor’s sign their names to them as if they had written them.  You can read that here.  At best it is a murky situation.

Recently, Eli Lilly was back in the news here in Boston, when the Boston Globe reported that at least 60 area doctors received more than a half million dollars in speakers fees.

A very common practice in the drug industry is to hire physicians as speakers , provide them with the literature on the drug they are marketing, and turn them loose speaking on behalf of the company that hired them.

Imagine the difference in credibility between a drug salesman and a renowned doctor.  When that doctor, whom may be at the top of their field, speaks people will listen.  The drug companies know this and have very smartly used the doctor’s credibility to help them push drugs through these talks.  The question I have is this:  Hasn’t that doctor become nothing more that a glorified drug salesman?  Is their credibility now under fire?  I think it has to be and I am not alone in those thoughts.

Mass General researcher, Eric Campbell found out that 16% of all US doctors and 25% of hospital department heads belong to one speaking bureau or another.  Mr Campbell is quoted as saying, “Academics who want to be drug salesmen should go be drug salesman. But don’t do it under the shroud of academia.’’

Everyone from politicians to other physicians are voicing concern that these company paid doctors cannot give unbiased information, whether that may be downplaying the side effects of a drug or not talking about the generic equivalent which would cost less.

What do these doctor’s whom are paid this money say?  They claim they vet all information and would only present material that they believe in, even if the company is the one providing the material.  They also claim these talks are great ways to educate other doctors about new drugs.  Although one doctor did admit he was doing the talks in order to cover his children’s college tuition.

The public is starting to wake up to this and put pressure on these companies to disclose their financial relationship with doctors.  To their credit Eli Lilly released a list of all their paid speakers.  Good for them, it is nice to see that the much asked for transparency is starting to become reality.

Because of this debate and other problems – pharmaceutical firms have paid millions in fines for illegally marketing medications – companies are under political pressure to disclose their financial relationships with doctors. Lilly is one of the first companies to publicly release a list of paid consultants and speakers.

In January the FDA reported they were fining Eli Lilly 1.4 billion dollars for illegally marketing a drug.  That is a lot of money until you realize that Eli Lilly did 20.38 billion in sales in 2008.

The drug they are getting fined over….in 2006 did 4.7 billion in sales.

Now let me ask you this, if I told you I would let you market a drug to 4.7 billion in sales, but if you get caught you would have to pay a fine of 1.4 billion would you take that deal?  Darn right you would.

Paying doctors to market drugs needs a complete overhaul.  We need to be demanding complete transparency.  Good for Eli Lilly to be the first one to do it, let’s hope it keeps going.

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