New numbers are out that disclose the amount major pharmaceutical companies are spending on marketing. The reports indicate that spending on physician speaking engagements is scaling back and analysts suspect that it may be a response to new financial disclosure laws.
According to new data collected as part of an ongoing report by ProPublica, most major pharmaceutical companies have reduced their budgets for promotional speaking by as much 50%. This is amid a slew of whistleblower lawsuits that have shown the companies as engaging in illegal marketing practices. These can include promoting drugs for uses that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), potentially putting patients at risk.
“Major pharmaceutical companies do not want the public to know how much money they spend pushing drugs to docs,” commented Bill Cash, an attorney with the Levin, Papantonio law firm who practices in the areas of product liability, personal injury and bad drug litigation.. “Big Pharma ghost-writes articles in the medical journals, funds studies on drugs without disclosure, and in this instance, spends millions getting physicians to shill their products.”
Pharmaceutical representatives claim that the scaling back of promotional budgets for physician speaking has less to do with fear of disclosure and more to do with a realignment of priorities responding to changes in their products’ patent statuses.
“The value of educational programs tends to be higher when we’re launching a new medicine or we have new clinical data/ new indication,” speaker for Eli Lilly, J. Scott MacGregor, said to the Chicago Tribune. He also claimed that the decreasing budgets are a reflection of the proliferation of web conferencing.
As part of the new health care reforms coming into effect, the Physician Payments Sunshine Act specifically targets payments to physicians but corporations. The law requires that health care providers report their sources of funding in an effort to increase patient safety. The concern is that physicians may be susceptible to outside financial persuasion and let their drug company money influence decision making. This danger can have potentially disastrous effects on patients.
Want to follow the numbers? Check out ProPublica’s ongoing investigation “Dollars for Docs”
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.