The Chicago Tribune reported that drug companies paid more than $25 million to Illinois doctors to promote and use drugs from the pharmaceutical companies. Nearly 40 physicians got payments and perks exceeding $100,000 between 2009 and early 2011.
Eight drug companies paid more than $220 million to doctors and promotional speakers in 2010 to promote their drugs.
Starting in 2013, all drug and medical device companies must report such information to the federal government which will make these disclosures available to the public.
The most controversial payments involve consulting arrangements and promotional speeches. Drug company officials say they are funding talks that provide much-needed medical education, led by physicians who are experts in their fields. Critics say financial relationship between doctors and drug companies can threaten patient care by influencing physicians to prescribe certain medications whether or not they are the best choice.
Until 2009, drug company payments to doctors and other health professionals were closely held as trade secrets. However, some companies have begun reporting this information in advance of the 2013 requirements and pressure from lawmakers or as a condition of settling federal whistle-blower lawsuits.
ProPublica has created a database called Dollars for Docs identifying amounts paid to doctors for promotion of drugs and medical devices. Dollars for Docs has identified more than $760 million in disclosed marketing payments from only 12 companies between 2009 and the 2nd quarter of 2011.
"[The drug company payments] make it look like physicians are not impartial or are in the service of the drug companies, and can cause patients to wonder if physicians’ recommendations for treatment are being made because it was the best option based on their clinical expertise or because they have a relationship with the company," [Hastings Center research scholar Josephine] Johnston said. "I don’t think many physicians have taken that risk (of patient distrust) as seriously as they should."
In 2009, the Chicago Tribune reported on the millions of dollars paid by foreign drug maker AstraZeneca to doctors in order to promote its anti-psychotic drug, Seroquel. AstraZeneca paid one Chicago doctor, Dr. Michael Reinstein nearly half-a-million dollars to promote Seroquel. In return, Dr. Reinstein provided AstraZeneca with a vast customer base.
Dr. Reinstein was traveling the country telling doctors that Seroquel would help patients lose weight while the FDA was warning about Seroquel’s link to weight gain and diabetes. Even Seroquel executives called Dr. Reinstein’s conclusion that patients experienced no adverse side effects "suspect" and "hard to believe". When faced with the choice of protecting patients or protecting profits, AstraZeneca and Dr. Reinstein chose profits over safety.
Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics division also paid millions — more than $80 million — to surgeons to promote its artificial hip systems. The US Department of Justice brought charges against four medical device companies – including DePuy – in 2007, claiming the companies were using kickbacks to doctors in promoting their products. However, DePuy kept paying doctors:
- $48 million to doctors in 2009
- $33 million from January to September 2010
Some surgeons received more than $1 million in single year.
These payments create a direct conflict of interest between doctor and patient. Drug company sponsored research potentially taints results and doctors create the impression – and sometimes the actual effect – of choosing profits and drug company kickbacks over patient safety.
- Drug companies pay $25 million to Illinois doctors [Deborah L. Shelton at Chicago Tribune]
- Doctor-drugmaker ties: Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Reinstein received nearly $500,000 from antipsychotic drug’s manufacturer [Christina Jewett and Same Roe at Chicago Tribune]
- Dollars for Doctors [ProPublica]
[More on Dangerous Drugs]
[More on the DePuy Hip Recall]
(c) Copyright 2011 Brett A. Emison
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.