Report: Drug companies spend millions marketing to physicians

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(Host) Drug companies spent more than $3 million last year to entice Vermont physicians to prescribe their products.

A new report by the Attorney General’s office shows that psychiatrists got the most money. A leading mental health group is calling on all physicians to reject the pharmaceutical company payments.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) Vermont is one of a few states that requires drug companies to disclose in detail how much money they spend on marketing with physicians and hospitals.

The payments include consulting fees, travel, gifts and money for lectures. Not included are free drug samples, or payments for clinical research studies.

Assistant Attorney General Julie Brill compiled the report. It’s the state’s fifth report on drug company payments.

(Brill) “I’d say that over the years we’re seeing first of all more money being spent, but also the money is being spent in a more targeted fashion. … Greater amounts are going to the top 100 recipients. And more money is being spent on certain categories of physicians, for instance psychiatrists and people who specialize in cardiovascular disease.”

(Dillon) In the last fiscal year, drug companies spent $3.1 million on promotion with Vermont doctors and health care providers. That’s about a 33% increase over the previous year’s payments.

Psychiatrists got the most money; 11 received a total of $626,000. The average amount that went to psychiatrists was about $57,000.

Brill says psychiatric drugs are clearly big business, and the money is targeted at those who make decisions on prescriptions.

(Brill) “You know this report doesn’t give information on individual doctors but it talks about the kind of influence the industry has, particularly on certain sectors of the prescribing community. And we think that consumers ought to know that. We think that policy makers ought to know that.”

(Dillon) The attorney general’s report also ranked payments to physicians based on the particular drug being marketed.

Drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression were among the top five in terms of total dollars spent.

(Brill) “And once again we’re seeing the psychiatric drugs reaching the top of the charts.”

(Dillon) A mental health advocacy organization says psychiatrists – and all health care providers – should refuse to accept the drug company money.

Ken Libertoff is executive director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health.

(Libertoff) “It does raise the question: Does the marketing influence the decisions being made in the practice of health care? And the time has come to eliminate that question and uncertainty.”

(Dillon) The Vermont Psychiatric Association has drafted a policy that advises its members not to accept payments from drug companies.

The University of Vermont Medical School also bans financial gifts to students and faculty.

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

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