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home / healthcare / in the media

Consumer Affairs
Jun 17, 2005

by Staff Writers

Watchdog Slams Drug Marketing To Doctors

If you think there are a lot of pharmaceutical commercials on TV aimed at the general public, it's nothing compared to the marketing barrage aimed at doctors. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) charges one prescription drug manufacturer in particular, Bristol-Myers Squibb, is one of the biggest spenders. The company has suspended its advertising to the public, but the consumer watchdog group charges it's making up for it with health care professionals.

"Bristol-Myers Squibb's so-called 'ban' on advertising provides a false sense of security to patients whose doctors will still be targeted by drug company marketing," said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. "Drug companies spend five times as much on marketing to doctors than they do advertising to patients because they know their profits depend upon whether a doctor is motivated to prescribed the newest blockbuster."

Flanagan cites a 2003 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, that says drug companies spent $4.8 billion on "physician detailing," the practice of sending marketers to doctors' offices to encourage doctors to prescribe a company's drugs, in 2000. In the same year, drug companies spent $2.4 billion on consumer advertising.

The report says total physician promotional spending in 2000 was $13.2 billion -- more than five times that spent on consumer advertising. Physician promotional activities include detailing, providing samples and journal advertising, not to mention the luncheons, receptions and other events routinely sponsored at medical conferences.

Under current law "physician detailers" are not required to inform a physician about a drug's dangerous side-effects or the relative efficacy of a drug compared to a lower cost option.

In 2004, Pfizer settled a lawsuit for $430 million with the U.S. Attorney General's office that alleged that the company had promoted its anti-convulsant medication, Neurontin, to doctors for "off-label" treatments -- those not approved by the FDA.

Among other things, government prosecutors alleged that Pfizer had falsely told doctors that the FDA has approved Neurontin as a treatment for more conditions that the FDA has actually approved; paid doctors more than $250,000 to promote non-FDA-approved uses to other doctors; and, fired salespeople if they didn't recruit enough doctors to prescribe Neurontin for
off-label uses.

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