Sophie Black writes:


A former marketing manager for a multinational pharmaceutical
company has disclosed details of perks
for doctors to Crikey, including free makeup for their wives, trips to Vegas
and funding for clinical trials. “Forget the pens and pads, there’s
much bigger
stuff going on hidden in a cloak of scientific and academic
respectability,” the former marketing manager, who
wished to remain anonymous,
told Crikey.

And while the president of the AMA, Dr Haikerwal, doesn’t
think marketing to doctors should be treated any differently from any other
industry group (Friday 28 July Item 7), some doctors beg to differ. Dr Bruce
Graham, a member of the AMA, told Crikey, “… sick people are vulnerable,
and more reliant on the integrity of the advice they receive, than other
consumers. Should pharmaceutical companies be trusted to ‘do the right thing’?
Only if you think that health is just another well informed and orderly
marketplace.”

“Pharmaceutical and device manufacturing
companies serve the interests of their shareholders over the interests of their
customers,” says Graham. “More disturbingly, there is real reason to
be concerned that the fabric of evidence based medicine is being corrupted at
multiple levels through what in other spheres would be called ‘spin’.”

The anonymous marketing manager, who worked in the industry in the 70s but says
big pharma’s record on perks has only got worse since then, confirmed these claims to Crikey, “Prior to
the release of a new drug, it was routine to identify outspoken opinion leaders
among the specialists working in the relevant field. They would be paid (the
polite terms were “supported” or “funded”) to conduct clinical trials on the
new product.”

“A good lurk was for a pharma giant to fund a body called something
like the “Australian (insert relevant therapeutic class or disease state)
Society, Institute, Foundation or Association – all very respectable.”

“Opinion leaders were
flown to international conferences at the front end of the plane to stay in a
five star hotel…Seats of medical learning such as Padua or Edinburgh were
eschewed for Las Vegas, or the Caribbean.”

Our source’s employer also owned a cosmetics
company, which meant wives didn’t miss out. “The doctors and their wives
(in those days doctors were predominantly male) were invited out for the
evening to be peeled into two groups. Doctors wives…were plied with
fragrances and cosmetics harder than the medicos.”

But some doctors agree with Haikerwal’s assertion that they’re immune to marketing wiles – Dr David Rosner wrote to
Crikey, “As a GP, I wish I had the ethical fortitude of journalists and
politicians.”

“I know I am so easily influenced that I would prescribe almost anything
to anyone for a free double cheese crust Dominos pizza, let alone a really posh
nosh up. As for prescribing the latest, more expensive drugs, perhaps they are
more effective than the older medications, or can cure a previously
un-treatable disorder.”

“I have yet to have a patient ask me for the oldest, least effective,
crappiest drug I can prescribe.”