The pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars each year on handing out free samples of their expensive brand name drugs to physicians, who in turn hand them out to their patients. As I’ve written about here and here, the obvious marketing truth is that no company would be doing this unless the strategy resulted in a significant increase in sales of those drugs. When you’re looking at a global market for pharmaceuticals expected to top $1.1 trillion by next year, that’s a substantial incentive to keep up this practice. Still, very few physicians believe that doctors accepting billions of dollars in free drug samples annually has the slightest bit of influence on the way they practice medicine. Except, of course, when it’s those other docs out there who are accepting the freebies. Continue reading
Here’s more this month from investigative journalist Alison Bass, author of the book Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and A Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial:
“The same drug giants paying millions of dollars to settle claims that they engaged in illegal and improper marketing of anti-psychotic drugs in the U.S. are even now looking for new worlds to conquer. Consider the study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. It surveyed more than 60,000 adults in 11 countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America and concludes that the treatment needs for people with bipolar disorder are “often unmet, particularly in low-income countries.”
“That may indeed be true. But I’d find this result a lot more believable if the study were not funded in large part by the same pharmaceutical companies who make the atypical anti-psychotics used to treat bipolar disorder: Eli Lilly (which makes Zyprexa), Janssen (the unit of Johnson & Johnson that brought us Risperdal), Pfizer (Geodon), Bristol Myers Squibb (Abilify), GlaxoSmithKline (Lamictal), and Novartis (Fanapt). Continue reading
ProPublica is an independent, non-profit news agency that produces investigative journalism in the public interest – and this year, it became the first online newsroom to win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. When they start digging, they find something interesting. Lately, ProPublica has been investigating Big Pharma marketing, particularly the growing practice of recruiting, training and paying doctors to give presentations to other docs about specific drugs.
They’re part of the pharmaceutical industry’s white-coat sales force, doctors paid to promote brand name prescription drugs to their peers — and if they’re convincing enough, to get more physicians to prescribe them. Continue reading
When a drug company’s sales rep needs to get a doctor to write more prescriptions for his company’s drug, there’s one almost foolproof way to get that task accomplished, according to a revealing National Public Radio report called Drug Company Flattery Wins Docs, Influences Prescriptions.
“To get a doctor to write more prescriptions, the drug rep asks the doctor to become a speaker on the company’s Speakers Bureau.”
For example, drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, like most other drug companies, hires doctors to speak to other doctors as part of their Speakers Bureau marketing efforts. The top GSK drug that their paid Speakers Bureau doctors talk about is called Avodart, a drug prescribed to treat enlarged prostates, and which has been locked in a heated sales battle with its main competition, Merck’s Proscar (now available as a generic).
But over the past five years of these Speakers Bureau presentations, Avodart has seen its sales more than quadruple and its market share double. Convincing a doctor to push your drug to his/her peers during a paid Speakers Bureau presentation really does seem to work.
According to this NPR report (in partnership with the Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalists from ProPublica), drug companies train their sales reps to approach potential Speakers Bureau doctors in a very specific way. Drug reps use language that deliberately fosters the idea that the Speakers Bureau doctors they hire are educators, and not just educators, but the “smartest of the smart”.
To celebrate the launch of its new Ice Mint coated nicotine gum a few years ago, Pfizer Canada hired “brand ambassadors” dressed in ski suits to give out free samples in Calgary and Toronto. The company’s press release declared:
“The new formulation of Nicorette gum is another option for smokers who want to free themselves from tobacco dependence. Quitting smoking is a difficult addiction to overcome. People who quit smoking may suffer severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms; however, using Nicorette Ice Mint Coated Gum can help smokers quit by reducing nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms and significantly improve their chances to quit smoking.”
Sounds pretty straightforward, except that the pitch isn’t attributed to the Pfizer PR firm, but to a physician, Dr. Rob Weinberg – a doctor who was paid by Pfizer for participating in drug promotion. He is a family practice physician in Toronto. Continue reading
Poor Toyota. The car maker has been forced to recall more than 8 million vehicles worldwide after news that at least 34 deaths have been linked to Toyota vehicle problems going back as far as 2004. But compare those 34 deaths with the more than 1,000 reports of patient deaths linked with the prescription drug Avandia in just one nine-month period last year, a death rate described by an Institute for Safe Medication Practices report as: “more than any other drug we monitor.” John Mack, editor of Pharma Marketing News, warns:
“If people are afraid to buy Toyotas, then based on average yearly death rates, they should be about 400 times more afraid to take Avandia.” Continue reading