Paid speaking “is perfectly legal, and if people want to work for drug companies, this is America,” said Scully, whose specialty has often been criticized for its over-reliance on medications. “But everybody needs to be clear — this is marketing.”
Part of the case made by U.S. prosecutors that led to GlaxoSmithKline‘s $3 billion settlement today is that the company used a network of paid experts, speaking to doctors and to the press, to promote uses of its drugs that had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. According to the Department of Justice’s complaint, one of those paid experts was celebrity physician Dr. Drew Pinsky, then the host of the radio show Loveline, which was also being broadcast on MTV. Pinsky has gone on to host Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew on HLN, and Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers on the CW.
“Unlimited spending! Schedule all the programs you can.” That was the management directive announced at the regional business meeting I attended when I first became a pharmaceutical rep. When I heard the announcement I felt like I was on an Enron train that was roaring down the tracks, and the company expected everyone to be on board. The company was giving its sales force unlimited funds to hire physicians as paid speakers, sometimes to influence other physicians to prescribe the company’s drugs, at other times to simply financially reward physicians who wrote high volumes of prescriptions every month for the company’s drugs.