New Orleans It was 95 degrees with 99 percent humidity. The Gulf had the biggest oil spill in US history. And attendees to this week's American Psychiatric Convention (APA) annual meeting in New Orleans had to brave 200 protestors chanting "no drugging kids for money" and "no conflicts of interest" to get into the convention hall.
Since 2008 when Congress investigated some APA psychiatrists for alleged pharma conflicts of interest, more light has shone between the two groups, historically almost indistinguishable.
Participants at this year's meeting, estimated at 14,000, saw conflict of interest slides before presentations and in their 240-page program book, fewer pharma funded classes and entertainment and no gifts or free meals at the 5-day event.
"They used to wine us and dine us," said one participant, a veteran of decades of annual meetings, ruefully.
"An SSRI maker flew my entire group to a Caribbean island," remembered a doctor from the East coast who did not want to be identified. Anymore.
But polarizing figures were still present. Sitting next to outgoing APA president Alan F. Schatzberg, MD, even as protestors chanted outside, was Charles Nemeroff, MD, former psychiatry chairman at Emory University who was investigated by Congress for unreported GlaxoSmithKline income and left his post in disgrace. Nemeroff was signing the Textbook of Psychopharmacology which he co-edited with Schatzberg, also investigated by Congress. Schatzberg, psychiatry chairman at Stanford, consults to seven drug companies, owns stock and patents with others and is on Sanofi-Aventis' Speakers Bureau according to the meeting's Daily Bulletin.
Heading a symposium about schizophrenia was S. Charles Schulz, MD, psychiatry chairman at the University of Minnesota who was investigated for financial links to AstraZeneca believed to alter his scientific conclusions.
Presenting a poster about the benefits of long acting risperidone was Wayne MacFadden, MD, AstraZeneca's US medical director for Seroquel until questions about his alleged sexual affairs with women doing research on the drug arose.
And a paper presented about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was co-written by Harvard's Joseph Biederman, MD, also investigated by Congress for pharma financial links and considered the father of the pediatric bipolar disorder craze.
Despite the pharma thaw, exhibition displays were still pretty gee-whiz with Cymbalta, Seroquel XR, Abilify, Lunesta and Pristiq the most prominent. (A rep struggled to explain to a group from Columbia that Pristiq was not, repeat not, just a more expensive Effexor.) ADHD was also big. "Let's be as brave as the people we serve" said Shire's display, showing a patient's giant, valiant face; an entire children's bedroom was constructed to sell INTUNIV.
But where take-one signs once existed, signs now warned health care providers they may be governed by no gift policies. And whereas glad-handing reps were still eager to answer questions --once they scanned badges for marketing data -- pharmacodynamic and patient care questions were referred to an information booth with a line to, well, see the doctor.
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