This week, drug giant Merck is out $671 million in combined settlements in one whopper of a health care fraud case.  Prosecutors for the states and federal government alleged that the maker of Vioxx and Zocor overcharged 49 states and the District of Columbia for four popular drugs, and bribed doctors to prescribe them with kickbacks disguised as consulting fees.

Read AP coverage here.

Row Row Row…Whose boat?

We admit, in the shadow of bribery, fake-rowing seems like a little white lie, but it’s one that may have turned into big bucks for Pfizer, the maker of Lipitor.   A month ago, Dr. Robert Jarvik, the Lipitor frontman that gives millions of primetime viewers the heebie-jeebies during commercial breaks every night, was outed for never having actually practiced medicine.

Now, courtesy of some digging by two Michigan House Democrats, it turns out Jarvik doesn’t row, either, as he’s seen doing in a recent Lipitor commercial (even though his stunt double’s on the team.)

Congress must decide whether the American public was more fooled by Jarvik’s doctorness or his rowing prowess, and why back in 1997 permitting pharma to run TV ads seemed like such a good idea.

Check out the PAL blog’s ideas for Jarvik’s replacement.

Industry-free CME at Sloan-Kettering: a case study

The Carlat Psychiatry Blog found this article in Medical Meetings Magazine on how Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York cut industry out of its CME curriculum.

Some seemingly simple steps were taken to make up for the 25 percent of industry funding the center turned back:  Conference organizers used more cancer experts already in-house, moved the meetings from hotels to the conference center on campus, cut out catered lunch, and reduced advertising in mailers and medical journals. According to officials at the world-renowned cancer hospital, response has been positive and attendance steady. 

Vanderbilt gets on gift-ban bandwagon

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has banned gifts from pharmaceutical and devicemakers, an announcement that comes in the wake of news that the vice chancellor of health affairs was appointed to the board of Merck.

According to the Fairview Observer, the policy does not affect researchers, only clinicians, and there is no provision for oversight or penalties.

[Yeah, but who wants to anger Commodore Cornelius?]

Between the lines

Gooznews had his reading glasses on for this one:  a sentence in a New York Times story about spine device researchers who invest in the technologies they test.  Count me in, says Goozner, among the “few [who] would argue that doctors should never be allowed to invest in new technologies.”

“Why draw the line at research?” Goozner writes. “Is it okay that the doctor prescribing a particular drug has a huge hunk of his or her retirement portfolio in the stock of the company that makes that drug?”

What Would Nightingale Do?

Without much formal conflict-of-interest training or guidelines, nurses are prime targets and perhaps the next frontier for pharmaceutical detailing, according to this new article in PLoS Medicine.

Portrait Gallery

A nice profile on RxP ally, AMSA PharmFree coordinator, and Tar Heel of the Week Anthony Fleg appeared this week in the Chapel Hill News and Observer.

And the New Jersey Business Journal interviews state Attorney General Anne Milgram.  There are ten questions, but they all fall under the general category : “Why you gotta be so mean to pharma?”

State Round-up

This Charleston Gazette piece looks at the debate around a law recently passed in the West Virginia legislature that would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose all gifts to physicians to a state-wide board.

Pharmalot reports that New York State Senator Tom Morahan has asked the state health commissioner to look into a report that NY Medicaid spent $82.8 million on psych drugs for kids in 2006, many of which were off-label.

The Vermont legislature still stands behind the prescription data confidentiality law it passed last spring, according to a vote on a motion to repeal the embattled law at the state house this week.

Vermont was sued by health information companies who sell the data and awaits a trial in May.  A similar 2006

New Hampshire law was overturned by a district court judge and awaits decision by the  U.S. Court of Appeals.

From the Oops department… Covetous reporters, critics of pharma and all those ever bested by office culture had a good laugh this week after the leak of top secret documents related to Eli Lilly’s high-stakes Zyprexa negotiations to a lucky New York Times reporter was linked back to an error by a Lilly lawyer who used the auto-fill in his email headings one too many times. The docs were supposed to go to Bradford Berenson, Esq., but the unintended recipient was none other than Times pharmaceutical reporter Alex Berenson. Pharmalot has more here.

From the Let the Good Times Roll department…

Comes a good post from the New Orleans-based National Physicians Alliance doc, alias KidShrink, who made a point of speaking up and saying ‘not cool’ to a pharmaceutical Rep-Elf stuffing physician mailboxes with branded trinkets. Queen of England and King cake, all in one post.