Mental health group wants doctors, hospitals to reject gifts from drug industry

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(Host) A leading mental health advocacy group is calling on doctors and hospitals to reject gifts from the pharmaceutical industry.

The Vermont Association for Mental Health says the payments to doctors create a conflict of interest that could compromise patient care.

But medical professionals say they are already taking steps to limit the influence of drug companies.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Vermont has a strict disclosure law that requires drug companies to report when they make payments of $25 or more to physicians.

The law exempts free samples and payments for clinical research trials. Companies are required to disclose lecture fees, free meals, travel, and other perks.

Last year, the attorney general’s office reported that health care providers were paid about $2.25 million in 2006. Psychiatrists were the specialists who got the most from drug companies. Eleven psychiatrists received a total of $502,000.

Ken Libertoff of the Vermont Association for Mental Health says the drug money poses an ethical dilemma for doctors.

(Libertoff) “And we are saying that we don’t want to have to worry that their patterns of treatment are being influenced by marketing.”

(Dillon) Libertoff’s organization last year decided to no longer accept funding from drug companies. He said the non-profit group never received more than 2.5 percent of its income from the industry.

Now Libertoff is calling on other organizations – and health care providers – to reject the pharmaceutical industry’s money as well.

(Libertoff) “It’s a polluted environment that needs to be changed. And hopefully the leaders in the field will respond, leading organizations will respond.”

(Dillon) Some health care organizations have already taken steps to limit drug company payments. The University of Vermont Medical School unveiled a new policy last year that bans financial gifts to student and faculty.

The policy even prohibits the pens and notepads that are frequently handed out by drug company reps. Fletcher Allen Health Care – the state’s largest hospital – has similar rules in place. The hospital does allow drug companies to fund education conferences through unrestricted grants.

The Vermont Psychiatric Association is also finalizing a policy that advises doctors against accepting gifts and payments. Doctor Thomas Simpatico is the association’s president.

(Simpatico) “We want to do everything that we can to have our patients feel confident that when they are working with a psychiatrist that the expert opinions that are brought forth are not influenced by anything other than science and knowledge and experience.”

(Dillon) The Vermont Medical Society and the Vermont Psychiatric Association also do not accept funding from drug companies.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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