Pens, pads, and other trinkets bearing prescription-drug logos have come to symbolize the extensive presence of pharmaceutical marketing in healthcare settings, but they may be on their way out. Pharmaceutical-industry trade association The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) is announcing a new voluntary code of conduct that bans drug reps from distributing these logoed items to doctors and other healthcare professionals.
The rule’s voluntary nature will limit its effectiveness, and, of course, it only addresses one of the many avenues through which drug companies seek to influence prescribing behavior (Merrill Goozner lists other avenues). In Gardiner Harris’s New York Times article on the PhRMA code, National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices executive director Sharon Treat warns that it’s probably “an attempt to persuade people against doing anything that’s serious.”
One thing we can say for sure about this move, though, is that it demonstrates the strength of the backlash against pharmaceutical marketing. PhRMA wouldn’t have made this move unless it really felt that it had to do something. Alicia Mundy reports in the Wall Street Journal:
The president of PhrMA, Billy Tauzin, a former Republican representative from Louisiana, has been hearing complaints from his ex-colleagues on the Hill about the increasingly negative perception of the drug industry because of several safety crises, controversies over how it funds research and its role in shaping drug studies. Prescription drug prices are becoming an issue in the presidential election and discussions on how to curb health care costs.
“Although our member companies have long been committed to responsible marketing of the life-enhancing and life-saving medicines they develop, we have heard the voices of policymakers, healthcare professionals and others telling us we can do better,” said Mr. Tauzin in statement.
Harris’s article points out that this announcement follows moves by several states (and the District of Columbia) to require companies to report their marketing expenses; plus, Minnesota has banned all doctor gifts valued at more than $50, and Massachusetts is mulling a similar ban. PhRMA opposed such disclosure efforts for years, but recently said it supports legislation, sponsored by Senators Herb Kohl and Charles Grassley, that would create a national registry of pharmaceutical-company payments to doctors. Harris reports on the latest disclosures from Vermont:
On Wednesday, Attorney General William H. Sorrell of Vermont released that state’s annual report on pharmaceutical marketing efforts. As in past years, the state found that drug makers gave more money to psychiatrists than to doctors in any other specialty. Eleven psychiatrists in the state received an average of $56,944 each.
Seven of the 10 most marketed drugs in Vermont treat psychiatric conditions. The report found that 84 drug companies spent more than $3 million in the 2007 fiscal year to market their products in the state, a 33 percent increase over reported expenditures the year before.
Pharmalot has more on Vermont’s report, and Public Citizen’s Health Research Group provides a summary and comparison of the marketing disclosure laws of DC, Maine, Minnesota, Vermont, and West Virginia.
Current economic problems will only worsen the pain of shelling out huge sums for prescription drugs, so we can expect the scrutiny of pharmaceutical marketing to become more widespread and intense.