Stealth marketing: how Big Pharma tries to shape medical news

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“.

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Pfizer paid for doc’s helicopter speaking tour to push ‘off-label’ drugs

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 GlobeContinue reading