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The Gravy Train Is Ending—Drug Makers Cutting Out Freebies for Doctors

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The Promotional Products Association International is a trade group of very unhappy companies facing a severe downturn in business. These companies provide the promotional products which drug makers use to influence physician prescribing habits.

Beginning this year, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is adopting a voluntary industry code of guidelines barring drug companies from giving doctors branded pens, staplers, flash drives, paperweights, and the like. In 2007, $16 billion was spent on free drug samples to doctors, clinics, and hospitals. An additional $6 billion was spent to “detail” physicians, which describes the branded promotional handouts and mealtime presentations to doctors. While many a physician has indicated the handouts do not influence their prescribing habits, there is scientific evidence to the contrary.

In late December, Massachusetts General Hospital announced that Dr. Joseph Biederman, a leading researcher on the use of psychiatric drugs in children, will limit his drug industry funded activities pending the outcome of the hospital’s inquiry into Dr. Biederman’s potential conflicts of interest. Senator Grassley has been critical of Dr. Biederman and has accused many schools of failing to adequately supervise researchers.

Dr. David Sinclair, a noted Harvard anti-aging researcher who has focused on resveratrol among other natural compounds, also announced his move to stay clear of any influence that might cloud his work by resigning from the board of Shaklee Corp.

While the voluntary ban on branded handouts to doctors is viewed skeptically by many, some welcome it as a first step to address influence of physicians and patients by vested interests. There remains a large amount of money spent by drug makers to influence physicians annually and a growing suspicion that “whose bread I eat, his song I sing.”

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