Although Jeanne Lenzer’s article about stealth marketing in Reporting On Health is actually meant for other journalists, it reminds me that we consumers should all be more savvy when it comes to evaluating medical news. Before my own heart attack, for example, I pretty well swallowed any medical miracle breakthrough news without question.
But because I now take a fistful of powerful cardiac medications everyday, I have become gradually both aware of and alarmed by Big Pharma marketing, and especially about what Dr. Marcia Angell herself (for over 20 years the Editor-in-Chief at the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine) calls “… its pervasive conflicts of interest that corrupt the medical profession.”
In fact, I have absolutely no way of knowing which of my cardiac meds were prescribed for me based on flawed research or tainted medical journal articles that were funded and ghostwritten by the very drug companies who stand to gain by paying for positive outcomes. And, worse, neither do my doctors. This is allowed to happen in part because of what we now know as “stealth marketing“.
Pfizer Inc., the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, paid an American physician $4,000 a day to promote the anti-psychotic drug Geodon, and expensed his use of a private helicopter to get him to speaking events that the company booked for him, according to a whistleblower lawsuit. The suit was one of several that led to a recent record-breaking $2.3 billion judgement against Pfizer to settle allegations made in multiple whistleblower lawsuits that the pharmaceutical giant defrauded Medicare, Medicaid and other government-funded health care programs in connection with its market practices for four of its drugs.
The settlement is the largest whistleblower, or qui tam, settlement in U.S. history. Pfizer agreed to plead guilty to criminal conduct and to pay $2.3 billion in criminal and civil fines.
Mark Westlock of Missouri was a sales rep for Pfizer from 1991 to 2007. He alleges that Pfizer paid psychiatrist Dr. Neil Kaye $4,000 daily speaker fees to talk to other doctors about “the off-label use of Geodon in adolescents,” among other issues.
Now, if I were Dr. Kaye, I’d now be some mad, as Newfoundlanders like to say here, because he no doubt was unaware that competing drug giant Eli Lilly was generously paying its own stable of hired docs up to $50,000 per speech, according to reports about 60 doctors on Lilly’s payroll, revealed last month in the Boston Globe. Continue reading
If you want to predict what you should be worrying about tomorrow, find out what insiders are worried about today. For example, it’s ever-so-enlightening to eavesdrop on the internal reports that Big Pharma stakeholders are reading, where the lowly, uninformed patient can find intriguing musings from pundits, those who are paid to stay one step ahead of the prescription pad.
At the Pharma Chem Outsourcing conference this month in New Jersey, speaker Stefan Loren of the investment firm Westwicke Partners revealed a sobering view of Big Pharma in his talk, “The Pharma Titanic: It’s Time To Root For the Iceberg”.
Mr. Loren opened his presentation with an overview of the U.S. national health care debate. He said that mandatory health insurance will be good for Big Pharma. But he also believes that there will be strong pressure for mandatory comparative effectiveness testing between drugs - not good for Big Pharma.
He sees global pharmaceutical sales declining, except for future growth coming in Asia and Latin America. He also sees evidence of “health care avoidance” – practices like unfilled prescriptions, unfinished courses of prescriptions, and people just not visiting medical and dental practitioners, also not a good trend for Big Pharma.
“The coming wave of patent expirations of the top 10 drugs will hit Big Pharma hard. Generics will grow: in 5-10 years, 80% of all prescriptions will be generic. That means trouble ahead. For investors, the return on investment for Big Pharma is largely negative. It’s a “death spiral.” Continue reading