The Pusher Men- How Some Doctors in America Profit Off of Drugs They Push
A recent investigation by ProPublica found 170,000 physicians are receiving cash and perks from pharmaceutical companies for promoting drugs. The investigation was a joint venture with ProPublica, a not-for-profit independent newsroom, PBS Nightly Business Report, The Chicago Tribune, Consumer Reports, The Boston Globe and NPR. Another recent study done by the team at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital did a survey of 1,900 primary care doctors about their contacts with drug companies and found 84% reported some type of relationship with drug companies; this is still a high number compared to the same report done by Harvard in 2004 that found 94% reporting some connection.
Reuters reports what Eric Campbell who lead the Harvard study and who teaches at the Harvard Medical School said doctors continue to think they cannot be influenced by free drug samples or a fancy lunch — a notion he said defies basic social science.
Putting doctors in a position to be salespeople is a conflict of interests as motivations to prescribe people medications in order to receive perks or cash puts patients health on the line. Since the 2004 Harvard report academic and government agencies have been pressuring doctors to sever their ties with drug companies. The ProPublica reports are a great step in the direction of informing consumers; it is based on reports from seven companies; AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Co., Pfizer, Cephalon and Johnson & Johnson who were required to disclose doctor payments as part of settlement agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice and Merck&Co. and GlaxoSmithKline who provided the information voluntarily. But these are only seven out of the 70 pharmaceutical companies operating in the United States and although they account for 36% of U.S. prescription drug sales, ProPublica states that “While that’s a sizeable share of the market, it suggests that there are many more payments from other drug companies that consumers don’t yet know their doctors are receiving.”
Thankfully the giant Novartis, will have to begin disclosing physician payments by March 2011 due to a settlement reached this fall with the Justice Department. The rest of the companies will be recquired to publicizing their reports due to legislation in this years health care reform known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act which would take effect in 2013.
Those profiting from the pharmaceutical industry either by making the pills or selling them to patients will tell you that modern medicine is necessary and good for the people of the United States and money paid for giving speeches and writing prescriptions holds no influence on the care they give and forwards awareness and knowledge regarding the prescriptions. Drug companies will tell you the millions of dollars they pay physicians for speaking and consulting is just compensation for the laudable work of educating their colleagues.
In actuality and in all obviousness it is just an elaborate and effective marketing scheme; big pharma pays doctors to be their pusher men for the drugs they create.
Some of these companies already have records stained with promoting drugs illegally while using doctors as their pawns, all of the companies have a record for profit driven business tactics that leave a wake of sickness and death. Recent whistleblower lawsuits have been providing a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the drug marketers.
In several instances ex-employers of the drug giants say physicians were told to push “off-label” uses of the drugs — those not approved by the U.S. regulators — a marketing tactic banned by federal law. Last year, Pfizer paid $2.3 billion to settle allegations in other cases that it had illegally promoted its drugs, Cephalon pleaded guilty and the case, filed against AstraZeneca details show how California psychiatrist Rimal Bera discussed the antipsychotic Seroquel for “conduct disorders” in children even though it was not approved for that use, AstraZeneca settled with the government for $520 million in April.
in 2008 to a misdemeanor count of selling misbranded drugs and paid $425 million in penalties
ProPublica highlights the 43 doctors earning $200,000 in their Dollar for Docs list. Here is exert from an article on their site:
So, what kind of doctors are pharma’s handpicked stars?
- Fewer than half are formal educators affiliated with academic medical centers or prominent leaders in their medical societies. The rest are a mix of physicians with limited credentials or about whom little could be gleaned despite searches of research publications, academic websites and professional society leadership lists.
- Five of the 43 are from Tennessee—more than any other state, even though it’s the 17th-largest by population. New Jersey, Texas, California, New York and Michigan each had three.
- Eleven of the 43 have board certification in the small field of endocrinology, a hotly competitive area because of the multibillion dollar market for diabetes drugs. Eight physicians, the next-largest subgroup, hold no advanced certification, despite speaking on specialized diseases and treatments.
- Only three of the top earners are women—all endocrinologists, one each from Louisiana, Tennessee and New Jersey.
- More than half worked for two or three companies. One Tennessee diabetes physician worked for five. Seven earned money solely from Glaxo.
This offers insight into why some medical professionals are drawn to this lucrative sideline—and into the diverse qualifications that drug companies are willing to accept to boost sales.
“Cultures to the beginning of time have figured that gifts engender a positive response toward the giver. What’s hysterical is the fact that physicians deny that these happen,” said Campbell. ”It’s absolutely ludicrous to think that drug companies would spend all their time and money giving away this stuff if it didn’t work.”
Payouts to physicians from these seven companies totaled $282 million in 2009.
In a nationally-representative survey by Consumer Reports of 1,250 adults, more than three-fourths said they would be “very” or “somewhat” concerned about getting the best treatment or advice if their doctor were accepting drug-company money.
The ProPublica list offers plenty of insight as to why those sort of suspicions are more then justified.
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