Friday, April 27, 2007

Expensive Medicine

Major pharmaceutical companies regularly work the FDA over the length of their patents, thereby keeping less expensive generic versions of medications off the market for as long as possible. The claim is always the same: developing new medicines is an extremely expensive process and the company needs the longer patent life to recoup those costs. An article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times suggests that a lot of those costs arise in areas other than research. Marketing the latest medication can be quite expensive as well.

Nearly 95% of physicians in the U.S. receive free food, beverages, drug samples, sports tickets or other benefits from drug company sales reps eager to influence their prescribing habits, according to a report today in the New England Journal of Medicine. ...

In the latest study, researchers sent questionnaires to more than 3,100 doctors in six specialties — anesthesiology, cardiology, family practice, general surgery, internal medicine and pediatrics — asking about their financial relationships with drug companies.

Eighty-three percent of all doctors who responded said they received free food and beverages, the most common benefit. Free drug samples were the second most common item, with 78% of doctors receiving them.

About one-quarter of all doctors said they received full or partial reimbursement from industry for attending continuing educational meetings, and 18% of doctors said they were paid consultants to drug companies.

Seven percent of doctors said they received tickets to cultural or sporting events, items that researchers said clearly fell outside ethical guidelines.
[Emphasis added]

None of this is illegal. In fact, strictly speaking, much of it isn't even unethical according to the voluntary guidelines promulgated by the AMA. Still, that doctors are benefiting financially from their relationships with the drug companies is hardly good news for patients. As the article notes, at least some of the time the "freebies" result in the prescribing of newer, usually more expensive drugs when older, less expensive drugs would be just as effective.

The drug companies spend about $20 billion annually in such marketing efforts, the bulk of which goes to doctors in the "freebies" mentioned in the article. Perhaps the American Medical Association should take a new look at their "voluntary" ethcal guidelines.

Perhaps Congress and the FDA might want to take a look at the system as well.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home