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Doctors And The Drug Industry

by Jane Thurnell-Read

I wouldn’t be a live and my eldest son wouldn’t be alive if it hadn’t been for the intervention of skilled doctors, but the way in which the pharmaceutical industry tries to influence doctors is worrying. It is encouraging that their activities are being monitored and publicised more and more, but there's still lots of cause for concern:


In the USA there’s one drug rep for every 15 doctors. This is a really shocking statistic – the pharmaceutical companies would not spend these millions of dollars without carefully monitoring the results. They must believe that these reps can affect the prescribing practice of doctors.


Drug companies spend on average twice as much on marketing as on research. Guardian (UK) June 26, 2006


Much research is sponsored by drug companies. Three quarters of the trails published in some of the major medical journals are sponsored by drug companies. Sometimes the same drug trial is published in slightly different ways, giving the impression that there is a whole body of research supporting the same conclusion. PLoS Medicine May 2005


Pharmaceutical companies in the UK employ nurses who are provided free to GP’s (doctor’s) surgeries. These nurses are allowed full access to patients’ records. They check the records of patients with asthma, diabetes etc. to check whether they are on the most up-to-date drugs. These nurses are routinely backed up by sales teams that will then go in and talk to the doctors. Sunday Times 5th March 2006


80% of medicine within the British National Health Service is branded drugs, although in many cases there is an equally effective non-branded (generic) alternative, but this is not backed-up by sales reps and glossy brochures. Sunday Times 5th March 2006


A study of the promotional brochures from drug companies received by US doctors showed that three out of 20 exaggerated the benefit of treatments. The study’s lead researcher, Robert Cardarelli said that the changes were small but portrayed the drugs in a more favourable light. He was not able to say whether the changes were deliberate or genuine mistakes. The study concluded: “Given the present findings, physicians should be cautious about drawing conclusions regarding a medication based on the marketing brochures provided by pharmaceutical companies.”


The practice of disease mongering appears to be growing: “the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments”. This has led to the menopause being medicalised and minor problems given the status of serious problems through drug company “information” campaigns.   PLoS Medicine April 2006