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Adam Thompson on March 22, 2007 - 8:41am
Marketing experts will tell you that a doctor is one of the most trusted professionals when it comes to public credibility in advertising. This holds true for their peers as well.
As reported in yesterday's New York Times, the darling strategy of PhRMA-marketing campaigns is hiring doctors as "consultants" to promote a drug to their peers, most often at expensive dinners or conferences hosted by drug companies. Marketing sunshine laws in Minnesota and Vermont are shedding light on the extraordinary investments by drug companies to influence the prescribing habits of doctors and other medical professionals.
According to ABC News, 90% of the drug industry's $21 billion marketing budget is spent on doctors. PhRMA will tell you that hiring doctors is all in the interest of education, but former drug company sales reps told the Times that doctors were hired to influence their prescribing habits. Critics, many of whom are doctors themselves, argue that these relationships adversely impact prescribing habits. As a result, doctors often prescribe more, newer and pricier drugs over cheaper existing drugs or generics that are just as or more effective. A former sales rep for Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson said to the Times, "the vast majority of the time that we did any sort of paid relationship with a physician, they increased the use of our drug."
This is reason enough to get tougher on drug company marketing tactics and pricing.
Following Minnesota and Vermont, legislators in Maine, West Virginia, California and the District of Columbia have enacted marketing sunshine, or disclosure laws. But, these laws may need to be strengthened to help the public understand how doctors may be influenced by drug company payments. Drug companies in Minnesota reported $57 million in payments from 1997 to 2005, but as the Journal of the American Medical Association recently found, the information is not easily accessible and loopholes allow companies to hide many payments as "trade secrets".
As the Stateside Dispatch profiled recently, states are sending out their own experts, called academic detailers, to doctors' offices armed with unbiased and scientific clinical data about the effectiveness of new, old and generic drugs to counter sales pitches from PhRMA sales reps.
New Hampshire, became the first state in 2006 to enact prescription data confidentiality. This law prohibits drug companies from using doctors' prescription information for commercial purposes.
If drug companes have this much money to push their products behind exam room doors, in addition to the fact that US drug prices are drastically higher than international averages, government at all levels can do more to regulate drug prices and the practices of the big PhRMAceuticals.
An Expert Among Us
State Representative Sharon Treat, D-ME, and Executive Director of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, a member organization of state legislators that we encourage legislators to join, is a national leader and expert on state efforts to regulate the hugely-profitable and bullying drug industry. She has compiled detailed analyses of state advertising and marketing legislation and has written model legislation for restricting and disclosing pharmaceutical marketing practices.