A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Uphold the Pharmaceutical Marketing Gift Ban

Uphold the Pharmaceutical Marketing Gift Ban

June 11, 2010

The Massachusetts pharmaceutical and medical device gift ban, which bars sales representatives from wining-and-dining physicians to coerce them into purchasing brand name drugs, went into effect in 2009, but nevertheless remains a controversial topic between the pharmaceutical industry and health care advocates. The gift ban is absolutely necessary for the effective, appropriate and ethical delivery of health care.

The gift ban drives down the cost of health care for everyone. The pharmaceutical industry invests over $6 billion a year nationwide in direct-to-physician marketing, and on average an estimated $9,000 in marketing to each physician in the United States. Instead of investing in expensive vacations and meals to induce doctors into purchasing brand name and often unnecessary medications, the industry should pass those savings on to consumers.

The gift ban also provides an essential check on drug safety. Brand name drugs are newer to the market and their long-term effectiveness and side effects have often not been fully investigated. Merck, for example, hired doctors to pitch Vioxx, as soon as it was on the market, to other physicians over expensive meals. Once reports surfaced that Vioxx caused heart attacks, the drug was pulled off the market, but only after the number of prescriptions for Vioxx rose fourfold as a result of the company’s direct-to-physician marketing.
As Dr. Daniel Carlat recently explained on his blog, gift giving results in “trickle-down deception:”

“It begins with the drug companies, and spreads and expands where the money goes. Other victims include advertising companies, medical education communication companies, publishers, lunch caterers, celebrity spokespeople, etc.... In each of these industries, there are ethical people who believe they are just making an honest buck. But they are unwittingly participating in a system that depends on a basic deception: trying to dress up advertising in the guise of education.”

The pharmaceutical industry gives gifts to promote their drugs and make a higher profit. Under the guise of promoting welfare for all, the industry maximizes their own revenue. We cannot allow the pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to utilize Massachusetts residents as pawns in a chess game for profits to interfere with providing affordable, accessible health care for our entire community.

- Devin Cohen