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General News    H1'ed 2/17/14

How Pharma Got Doctors to Prescribe Risperdal, Wellbutrin, Bextra, Neurontin, Prempro and More

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Until 2010 when the Physician Payments Sunshine Act which requires disclosure of Pharma payments passed, the only thing better than working for Pharma was being a doctor wined and dined by Pharma. Pfizer jetted 5,000 doctors to Caribbean resorts where they enjoyed massages, golf and $2,000 honoraria charges Blue Cross & Blue Shield to sell its painkiller Bextra ( withdrawn from the market in 2005 for heart risks). GSK sent doctors to lavish resorts to promote Wellbutrin, charges the Justice Department . Johnson & Johnson bestowed trips, perks and honoraria on Texas Medicaid officials to get its drug Risperdal preferred on the formulary, charged a state lawsuit. Bristol-Myers Squibb enticed doctors to prescribe its drugs with access to the Los Angeles Lakers and luxury box suites for their games, say California regulators . In China GSK is charged with using a network of 700 middlemen and travel agencies to bribe doctors with cash and sexual favors and Victory Pharma , an opioid drugs maker, was charged with treating doctors to strip shows. Nice.


Selling wonder drugs
Selling wonder drugs
(Image by Martha Rosenberg)
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Of course, Pharma reps did as well as the doctors. Thanks to their Barbie and Ken doll looks and the free samples, gifts and lunches they would bring medical staff, they would often waltz in to see the doctor before waiting and sick patients . Some had their own lounges at medical offices. Pharma reps were so famous for feeding their prescriber prospects, during a question and answer period at a medical conference about cutting financial ties to Pharma, a doctor asked in all earnestness, "but what will we do for lunch?"


The shameless schmoosing of Pharma reps even sparked jokes like these.


The Devil offered a Pharma rep $3 million a year if he would consign his wife and children's souls to hell. "What's the catch?" he asked.


A doctor was drinking at the bar and every few minutes took a picture out of his pocket and looked at it. "What are you doing?" asked the bartender. "I have my drug rep's picture in there," said the doc. "When he starts to look honest, I've had enough to drink."


Trips to resorts and strip clubs will likely continue to diminish under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act but there are many other ways, often sneaky, that Pharma can entice doctors to prescribe its expensive, patent drugs.


Spying on Prescribing


Like the NSA spying program, shameless spying on doctors' prescribing habits spares almost no one. Recently, the full sweep of IMS Health Holdings' prescription data mining was revealed by ProPublica who reported that IMS' collection includes over 85 percent of the world's prescriptions and "comprehensive, anonymous medical records for 400 million patients." In 2007, there was a backlash against another seller of medical information: the AMA itself. By selling the names, office addresses and practice types of almost every doctor in the US to marketing firms the AMA netted almost $50 million a year the American Medical Student Association and the National Physicians Alliance charged at the AMA's convention . The database of 900,000 doctors does not violate privacy, counters the AMA, since doctors can opt out.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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