No longer a theory: doctors write brand name prescriptions for pay
Popular perception has it that, sure, doctors get free pens, notepads, and other “goodies” from pharmaceutical companies; an occasional visit from a strikingly good-looking representative with a sandwich platter. Big deal, right? This is America, after all, and there’s nothing wrong with a little marketing!
Behind the swag bags and the pizza parties that are visible, though, is a world of “pay-for-play” arrangements where the “goodies” aren’t so innocent. We’re talking the good-ol’ American green stuff, dished out by pharma companies and accepted by some – one might say many – prescription-writing doctors.
A 2015 op-ed piece titled “Big Pharma is America’s New Mafia,” written by a practicing physician for The Daily Beast site, points out that the “pens, snack trays, and reps” cost pharma around $90 million annually, while payments to doctors for “speaking engagements, “research,” and other “fees” total over $1.4 billion per year. This “new mafia” isn’t dumb you see. They’re not resting their success on soggy party hoagies. Ever notice the respect criminals have for money? “It talks,” the old saying reminds us.
My upcoming (mid-2016) novel, DEADLY PRESCRIPTION, exposes in fictionalized fashion some of the real criminality in and around Big Pharma. But, even when the actions of drugmakers don’t sink to the level of criminality, there is plenty wrong in the system that stretches from the proposal of a new drug to a patient’s ingesting that drug. I thought it would be worthwhile to look at a partial list, for clarity’s sake:
- Clinical trials sponsored by the pharma company
- Clinical trials designed by the pharma company
- Clinical trials managed by the pharma company
- Clinical trial results written by the pharma company
- Clinical trials with two, three, or all of the above characteristics
- Pharmaceutical congressional lobby and political campaign contributions
- Pharmaceutical marketing and the monies paid to doctors
- Price-gouging by drugmakers
- Greedy pharma execs with little conscience
- Greedy investors with little conscience
- Pharma focused on investors instead of patients
- Pharma recruitment from Wall Street and/or criminal enterprises
Of course, the 12th and last item in this summary partially explains the arrest of a pharma CEO on the evening news. The greedier the execs and investors get, the more crime (and arrests) we will see. For a glimpse of just how far they might go, I suggest reading DEADLY PRESCRIPTION when it becomes available to the public.
Meanwhile, we’ll continue to see headlines like this recent one from the Albany Daily Star: “Pharmaceutical Drug & Medical Device Makers Send Money to Doctors for Their Prescriptions.” The article points to an information windfall from a provision in Obamacare which requires drugmakers to disclose how much they pay doctors.
A study of the data, while stopping short of declaring a direct line between doctor payments and specific brand name drugs, did find a correlation between how much doctors were paid by pharma and how likely they were to prescribe brand name drugs in general.