Legal drug paraphenalia

Wired magazine has a slide show of the bribes promotional gifts given out at last month’s American Psychiatric Association by pharmaceutical companies trying to get doctors to prescribe their drugs.

It’s all fairly tacky stuff but they’re expensive enough to be motivating. These sorts of things are handed out willy-nilly by drugs reps and your local doctor’s office is likely to be awash with these sort of semi-useful adverts.

At conferences, to get the more expensive gifts you usually have to complete a short quiz, which in reality is a push poll designed to make the key marketing points more memorable.

They tend to ask questions like:

In a 2003 research study [conducted by our company] of over 2,000 people, which drug was found to be most effective for condition X?

Was it:
a) our new drug FixitallTM
b) ye olde elixir of quicksilver
c) competitor’s drug [which incidentally, just had bad press]

In reality though, these sorts of promotions are really the tip of the iceberg. What you don’t get from the slide show, is that possibly the majority of people at the conference will have had their trip funded by drug companies, probably with dinners, cocktail parties and excursions thrown in.

Those who don’t, end up staying in cheap hotels, miles from the conference, in the seedy parts of town, because either they have to pay the whole trip themselves or their departments will only give modest amounts as it is assumed you can just get drug company money.

You can see why choosing to remain as uninfluenced as possible by drug company promotion is less attractive for some.

Of course, most clinicians argue that these sorts of things don’t influence them, but we know from exactly the same type of research that clinical science is based on that it has a strong and significant effect on attitudes and clinical practice.

What’s more, patients look upon these gifts much less favourably than clinicians do.

If you want to know more about the effects of drug company promotion and the bias in the advertising material, have a look at No Free Lunch.

As an aside, if there is a big psychiatric conference in town, go to the less glamorous area of the city, and you’ll find groups of researchers having a much better time. One of the disadvantages of attending the corporate events is attendees are expected to behave like the Queen at a garden party, so no-one “upsets the funders”. Very dull indeed.

Link to Wired article ‘Prescribe Me!’ (via BB).
Link to No Free Lunch campaign.

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