No More Tchotchkes from Big Pharma

January 21st, 2009 | Sources: NY Times

Proclaiming 2009 to be their year for ethical behavior, Big Pharma self-imposed a moratorium on the practice of handing out branded trinkets to physicians, pharmacists and others who write its checks.

So say good-bye to the black rhinestone BOTOX T-shirts, the Lunesta mugs with the sleepy moth, Viagra push pens and Seroquel staplers.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, after adding Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela to its board, authored the guidelines and 40 drug makers quickly signed on.

The code builds on a 2002 version which outlawed distribution of pricier perks like tickets to shows and pro sporting events. It also asks that companies financing medical conferences leave curriculum development to arms-length program coordinators.

The code does not prevent companies from sponsoring take-in lunches for physicians and their office staff or restaurant dinners for physicians, assuming they are accompanied by an educational seminar.

It also doesn’t prevent companies from giving away free drug samples to doctors, which they did in 2007 to the tune of $15 billion, and it continues to permit companies to pay physicians as consultants at “fair market value” which translates to tens of thousands of dollars per year in many cases.

“Pens or no pens, their influence is not going to be diminished,” Larry Greenbaum, a rheumatologist in Greenwood, Indiana told the New York Times.

But others mourn the loss and dismiss the notion that trinkets influence prescribing decisions. “It seems goofy to us. We like getting our pens,” lamented Susan Hurson, a Washington Ob-Gyn.

Pizaazz recommends the opposite strategy: allow physicians to sell space on their white coats like it was the hood of a NASCAR. It would make doctor visits more exciting and people would know straight away which company bought them off.


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