February 16th, 2007

Stop Drug Company Gifts to Doctors

New Haven (CT) Register

Marketing expense drives up drug prices, creates conflicts of interest with patients.

The state attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, has proposed a law that would require pharmaceutical companies to report to the state all gifts, meals and free trips they provide state doctors to promote their drugs.

As part of their $20 billion annual marketing budget, drug companies spend an estimated $12 million a year on gifts for state doctors, according to Consumers Union. The Connecticut Center for Patient Safety estimates that the average primary care physician in the state has contacts with 28 drug sales representatives a week, the average specialist, 14 contacts.

In proposing the legislation, Blumenthal argues that the disclosures would make for more informed decisions by patients. A patient might ask whether one drug was recommended over a comparable and perhaps cheaper one because of a particularly good meal a physician had at a drug company’s expense.

Blumenthal’s proposal is a good first step, but it does not go far enough. In fact, some in the medical profession are far ahead of him. They support an outright ban on the drug company gifts. Yale University doctors adopted a ban last year; so have those at Stanford.

An official of the Connecticut State Medical Society, Al Herzog, said it had “no problem” with either a reporting requirement or a gift ban. “We’d really love to see that (marketing) money redirected toward lowering drug prices for our patients.”

A gift ban wouldn’t stop the sales reps from visiting doctors and pitching their products. Nor should it stop doctors from saying: “Instead of that free lunch, give me more free samples. My poor patients can’t afford the prices you charge.”

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