By Kimberly Lambert

October 9th 2012  8:00am

There is no question that innovative medications have saved lives over the years, but many lives have been jeopardized due to the reduction of dollars spent in researching and developing medications.  The truth is that pharmaceutical companies put only a fraction of their resources into research and development of new drugs, but spend billions to market a drug as “new” which in reality is only slightly different than drugs already on the market.  As recently reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), current “incentives that reward companies for developing large numbers of new drugs with few clinical advantages“ result in the promotion and increased sale of these similar, but more expensive drugs.  Not only are many of these drugs essentially the same as its less expensive, older form, but as exampled below, many are merely medicinal afterthoughts turned blockbuster by billions of dollars spent on creative marketing.  The BMJ reports that for every dollar spent on research and development, $19 goes towards marketing and promotion.

It is estimated that consumers are exposed to no less than 30 – 40 advertisements per day.  Since the deregulation of direct-to-consumer ads, the marketing dollars spent by pharmaceutical companies is money well spent churning an estimated $200 billion in profits since 1995, according to the website MinnPost and the Huffington Post.  Marketing doesn’t stop with consumers, however.  Frightfully, the companies are also spending millions to influence medical doctors.  Financial incentives touted as medical education persuades some doctors to prescribe and promote essentially older drugs with little more than a new name and more expensive price tag.

By example, at the time the antidepressant drug Lexapro was launched by Forest Laboratories, there were at least six other drugs in its class, one of which is essentially identical to its former drug Celexa, about to lose its patent.  As uncovered by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance and reported by the New York Times, Forest Pharmaceuticals planned to spend $34.7 million to pay psychiatrists and primary care doctors to deliver 15,000 marketing lectures (“large-scale dinner programs with a slide presentation or one-one-one advocate lunches”) to their peers in one year and an additional $36 million in providing lunch to doctors in which would provide for an extended amount of selling time for representatives of the drug company.

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Kimberly Lambert is a shareholder at the Levin Papantonio Law Firm. Lambert focuses her practice on personal injury, mass tort litigation, products liability litigation, wrongful death, and admiralty/maritime law.