Screen shot of CALPIRG report cover

CalPIRG, a member of Prescription Access Litigation’s coalition, released a new report last week, titled “Playing By Their Own Rules: An Analysis of Drug Company Gifts to Doctors”. As CALPIRG’s announcement describes:

CALPIRG released a new analysis today examining drug companies’ self-imposed limits on their marketing to doctors – efforts that include lavish wining-and-dining and thousands of dollars worth of gifts. The report, Playing By Their Own Rules: An Analysis of Drug Company Gifts to Doctors, finds that these limits are riddled with exceptions, and that some companies have evaded even the least restrictive limits on their marketing.

“Patients need to know that prescriptions are being written on the basis of science, not high-priced meals and upscale gifts,” said Michael Russo, Health Care Advocate with CALPIRG. “Strong limits on these marketing efforts are necessary to protect patients – and our research shows that the limits the drug companies have chosen for themselves amount to no limits at all.”

Drug company marketing showers doctors with fancy dinners and costly giveaways, aimed at convincing them to prescribe the latest, most expensive, least-tested drugs – forcing patients to pay top dollar, and subjecting them to potentially unknown side effects. Current California law requires drug companies to choose, and then abide by, dollar limits on the value of gifts and free meals they give to doctors as part of their marketing efforts.

But CALPIRG’s analysis shows that these “limits” often allow the companies to give as much as they wish. Key findings include:

  • Drug companies fail to count some meals and other payments as “gifts,” and therefore they are not subject to the limit;
  • Some companies reserve the right to exceed their limits if they so choose;
  • Others assert that they are following a limit, but do not disclose what that limit actually is, while a few fail even to post their policies at all;
  • Since 2005, 5 of the largest companies have raised their limits, by an average of $1,100 dollars per doctor per year.

“It’s disappointing that the drug industry hasn’t even been able to comply with their own rules,” said Russo. “We’ve let the foxes guard the henhouse long enough.”

When drug company marketing succeeds, it induces doctors to over-prescribe the newest, priciest drugs, inflating the cost of prescription drugs. Also, because the newest drugs have been on the market for the least time, they may have potentially unknown side effects.

“By playing by their own rules, the drug companies have let themselves get away with whatever they want,” said Russo. “It’s time we set a hard, enforceable limit on doctor gifts, and require those gifts to be publicly disclosed. Patients need to have confidence that when a doctor decides which drug to prescribe, drug company marketing isn’t part of the equation.”

CALPIRG’s analysis shows that some companies by all appearances are not complying with California law governing drug company marketing to doctors. “We urge the Attorney General to investigate our findings, and take appropriate action to make sure these companies follow the law,” said Russo.