When Daniel Carlat, a psychiatrist in Massachusetts, was flown to New York with his wife by Wyeth, the “training” weekend he attended in a luxury hotel was topped off with a Broadway show. It was early 2001 and he had just agreed to the US pharmaceuticals company’s proposal that he give talks to doctors about its antidepressant Effexor. During the following year, he was regularly paid fees of $750 a time to drive to “lunch and learn” sessions where he would speak for 10 minutes to emphasise the drug’s advantages to fellow doctors, using slides prepared by the company. “It seemed like a win-win,” he recalls. “I was prescribing it, educating doctors and making some money.” But within a few months, he became disillusioned with his co-option as a marketing representative. He was selectively presenting clinical data that put the drug in a positive light to physicians who had been targeted by the company through “data mining” techniques that identified their individual prescription patterns.Dr Carlat has spoken out as part of a growing backlash against such aggressive marketing tactics, which are leading to significant changes in the relationship between doctors and drug companies. But even as pharmaceuticals executives argue that such problems belong to the past and were always exaggerated, they are bracing for both intensifying penalties and calls for further reform.
by Ralph Nadar
One of the worst violations involves companies promoting unproven, often dangerous uses for their medicines. Last year, Pfizer paid $1.2 billion for illegal off-label promotion -the largest criminal fine in U.S.history. Other major corporate violators were GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Schering-Plough, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, TAP Pharmaceutical, Merck, Serono, Purdue, Allergan, Novartis, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Forest Laboratories, Sanofi-aventis, Bayer, Mylan, Teva and King Pharmaceuticals.
The violations by these and other drug companies point to the wide range of impacts, including taking many lives of patients, which stems from these recurrent activities. These criminal or civil illegalities cover (1) overcharging government health programs, (2) unlawful promotion, (3) monopoly practices, (4) kickbacks, (5) concealing study findings, (6) poor manufacturing practices, (7) environmental violations, (8) financial violations and (9) illegal distribution.
The American Psychiatric Association, in its 240 page guide to its May annual meeting, “forgot” to mention the conflicts of interest of its own president Alan Schatzberg, MD. It had to print them on the newsletter circulated the third day of the meeting. Nor were names even alphabetized for easy information retrieval. (Schatzberg is financially linked to Eli Lilly, GSK, Merck, Pfizer, Forest, Takeda, Sanofi-Aventis and eight other companies.)