The drug and medical device industry sent military pharmacists on more than 400 trips at a cost of more than $400,000 between 1998 and 2007, according to a new report from the Center for Public Integrity and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

The story about drug and device companies footing the bill for surgeons, psychiatrists and other physicians to attend industry-sponsored conferences and medical education seminars is a well-known one, and Dept. of Defense doctors are no exception – according to the report, the drug and device industry shelled out some $1.7 million over the same time period to send doctors, pharmacists, researchers and other health care employees to conferences and promotional events. But the spending on pharmacist travel represents a full quarter of that, perhaps signaling an expansion of the industry’s marketing strategy.

Why spend so much on pharmacists?  Well, between 2000 and 2006, DOD spending on prescription drugs rose from $1.6 billion to $6 billion a year. And pharmacists influence what drugs are purchased and prescribed.

A bill before Congress, the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, would require disclosure of such payments to physicians, but does not (as introduced) cover payments to other pharmacists (or to other prescribers).  The Institute of Medicine recently called for a federal disclosure law that would cover doctors, but also other health professionals and organizations. The Senate Finance Committee, in its series of health reform options papers, is exploring expanding Sunshine-like disclosure requirements to other health care employees, as well.