HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, January 2, 2009

Good-Bye to the Drug Company Freebies

The New York Times reports on the voluntary moratorium on free pens, notepads etc. from drug companies.  It states,

Starting Jan. 1, the pharmaceutical industry has agreed to a voluntary moratorium on the kind of branded  goodies  — Viagra pens, Zoloft soap dispensers, Lipitor mugs — that were meant  to foster good will and, some would say, encourage doctors to prescribe more of the drugs. . . .

Some skeptics deride the voluntary ban as a superficial measure that does nothing to curb the far larger amounts drug companies spend each year on various other efforts to influence physicians. But proponents welcome it as a step toward ending the barrage of drug brands and logos that surround, and may subliminally influence, doctors and patients. . . .

The new voluntary industry guidelines try to counter the impression that gifts to doctors are intended to unduly influence medicine. The code, drawn up by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group in Washington, bars drug companies from giving doctors branded pens, staplers, flash drives, paperweights, calculators and the like.

The guidelines also reiterate the group’s 2002 code, which prohibited more expensive goods and services like tickets to professional sports games and junkets to resorts. And it asks companies that finance medical courses, conferences or scholarships to leave the selection of study material and scholarship recipients to outside program coordinators.

Diane Bieri, the executive vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the updated guidelines were not an admission that gifts could influence doctors’ prescribing habits. Instead, she said, they were meant to emphasize the educational nature of the relationship between industry and doctors. . . .

But some critics said the code did not go far enough to address the influence of drug marketing on the practice of medicine. The guidelines, for example, still permit drug makers to underwrite free lunches for doctors and their staffs or to sponsor dinners for doctors at restaurants, as long as the meals are accompanied by educational presentations. . . .

About 40 drug makers, including Eli Lilly & Company, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, have signed on to the code. Representatives of several pharmaceutical makers said their companies intended to comply with the guidelines, but they declined to discuss past marketing programs involving branded gifts.

The restrictions come as a blow to the makers and distributors of promotional products, an industry with an annual turnover of about $19 billion, according to Promotional Products Association International, a trade group. Such companies, accustomed to orders of up to a million pens a drug, stand to lose around $1 billion a year in sales as a result of the drug industry’s voluntary ban, the group said. . . .

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