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How Much Are Drug Companies Really Paying Your Doctor?

According to this fascinating New York Times piece, seven legislatures have passed laws requiring drug companies to disclose how much they've spent on the marketing efforts in their individual states, and an accompanying Journal of the American Medical Association study focuses on two of them (Minnesota and Vermont).

Drugmakers have kept details of the payouts to health care professionals in Vermont private, declaring them "trade secrets." But Minnesota's disclosures are a matter of public record.

Since 1997, when the Minnesota law was passed, drug companies have paid more than 5,500 health care workers in the state at least $57 million; more than 20 percent of the state's physicians received money, and over 100 people received more than $100,000. Ten doctors and one dentist received more than $500,000. Another $40 million was paid to clinics, research centers and other organizations.

Psychiatrists, as a profession, received the most money, followed by doctors who specialize in internal medicine, then cardiologists, endocrinologists and neurologists.

Doctors often received payments in return for delivering lectures about drugs to other doctors. Some sat on the committees that create nationwide guidelines about when to use medicines; a 2002 survey actually found that upwards of 80 percent of the doctors on such panels had financial ties to drug makers. A small number of doctors were being paid to do research.

Studies have shown that doctors who have close financial ties to drug companies tend to prescribe newer, pricier drugs, even if this is not in the best interest of the patients. Few patients are aware of the financial connections between the doctors prescribing drugs and the companies making them.

Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 297, No. 11, March 21, 2007: 1216-1223

New York Times March 21, 2007 (Registration Required)

Tuscaloosa News.com March 21, 2007

Dr. Mercola's Comment:

In the United States as a whole, drug companies shell out $4 billion to advertise directly to consumers on the television and print media. But that is small potatoes when it comes to what they spend on marketing to physicians to spread their message that drugs are the answer to all health care problems.

They spend 400 percent more, or $16 billion each year, to directly influence doctors. That is $10,000 for every single physician in the United States. In reality, the average amount is even somewhat higher, since they don't bother to spend much money on doctors who practice natural medicine and won't prescribe their toxic drugs.

I can assure you they haven't spent a wooden nickel on me this century, as I stopped seeing drug reps in the last century.

Why do they spend so much?

Please understand that drug companies are not stupid. Like any smart corporation they invest in this marketing because it works.

They make far more money as a result of their $16-billion investment in physician marketing. A Harvard Business School professional quoted in the Times echoed my exact sentiments about the all-too-cozy relationship between the drug companies and practitioners of conventional medicine:

"A doctor who represents a pharmaceutical company will tend to see the data in a slightly more positive light and as a result will overprescribe that company's drugs. When honest human beings have a vested stake in seeing the world in a particular way, they're incapable of objectivity and independence."

The same rationale also applies, unfortunately, to the sad state of drug safety in America, often trumped by ridiculous marketing ploys like giveaways and, when all else fails, the low art of disease mongering.

Meanwhile, the sad fact of the matter is, most of the drugs being prescribed by these compromised doctors are useless at best and outright dangerous at worst. And don't expect the hobbled, seriously compromised FDA to ever take on the drug companies. Remember, as it's currently configured, the FDA works in the best interests of the multi-national drug manufacturers, and not you!

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