Report says drug companies target influential doctors

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(Host) A recent report by the Attorney General’s office says drug companies are targeting key doctors in the state, in hopes of influencing the decisions other doctors make.

The Pharmaceutical Marketing Disclosures report, issued last week, tracks the marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies in Vermont, and found that companies spent 33 percent more this year.

VPR’s Sarah Ashworth has more on how the money was focused on a smaller pool of doctors.

(Ashworth) Pharmaceutical companies spent more than $312,000 to market their products to just two cardiologists in Vermont-that’s 10 percent of the total money spent statewide.

The report, which doesn’t name specific doctors, says that drug companies also spent more than $626,000 on eleven psychiatrists.

Assistant Attorney General Julie Brill compiled the report, and says such results indicate that the pharmaceutical industry is targeting fewer and fewer people.

(Brill) "In all likelihood, they’re focusing their payments on what the industry terms thought leaders, that is, people who are influential in their fields, who are considered national leaders. We have seen this trend over time, that over the past three years, we have seen a greater concentration of the payments in fewer prescribers’ hands."

(Ashworth) Dr. Rich Pinckney is an Internist and UVM Professor, who directs programs that help train doctors on how to understand and deal with pharmaceutical marketing. And as a primary care physician, Pinckney says he’s often asked for information on other influential doctors.

(Pinckney) "It’s not unusual for me to get a survey in the mail where I’m paid a fairly high amount of money to the tune of $100, to spend five minutes filling out a survey asking me who I respect in a certain field. Basically what’s happening is the pharmaceutical company is taking that information and compiling it across the state and figuring out who they’re going to target next."

(Ashworth) Pinckney also has a "no pharmaceutical rep" policy in place in his own clinic, and says he refuses to accept free samples of products. But, a majority of Vermont doctors do, and those who support the practice say it helps patients try out medications without the expense of buying costly drugs.

For VPR News, I’m Sarah Ashworth.

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