Swimming in a Sea of Green
by Dr. Rodger Murphree, D.C.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PRMA), the industry’s trade association, recently announced new voluntary guidelines concerning direct marketing to physicians. Under the new guidelines doctors won’t be getting pens, pads, mugs, and other gifts that drug makers bombard doctors with on a daily basis. Under the new guidelines these items and other freebies will be forbidden. In order to squelch the groundswell of public distrust for drug company tactics, the PRMA has been cowed into action.
"What took so long?" you might ask. There are millions of reasons that come to mind—all of them green with former presidents on the front of them. The medical institutions and doctors themselves have become addicted to the pharmaceutical industry’s largesse; it’s hard to imagine they can break their addiction.
But, please be aware that these are voluntary guidelines. And they provide no definite limit on the millions of dollars spent on speaking and consulting arrangements that drug makers have forged with tens of thousands of doctors. Nor do they ban the bribing of office staff through office breakfasts and lunches. Nor do they ban the common practice of inviting and paying doctors to attend educational dinners at fancy restaurants.
In 2005, drug companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars and provided for 60 to 80 percent of the costs of doctors’ continuing-education classes.1
These classes have now become nothing more than a "my drug is best," brainwashing sales-pitch. Medical doctors routinely receive expense-free trips to vacation destinations for these seminars. Many are paid handsomely to speak on behalf of the drug companies at these conferences. We’re talking $750 to $2,000 for a thirty-minute speech.
For instance, drug companies paid the American Psychiatric Association $60,000 for each of its 50-plus yearly industry-sponsored symposia. Pharmaceutical companies paid an additional $200,000 to $400,000 in expenses to host each of these events.2
Pharmaceutical companies often fly doctors to annual
meetings in exotic locations—free of charge—where they dine on gourmet meals in four-star resorts.
"I’m not that hopeful for any real change," says Dr. Marcia Angell, past editor of The New England Journal of Medicine and author of The Truth About Drug Companies. "They have bought politicians and doctors. They’ve looked at everyone and anyone who could stand in their way and they’ve thrown money at them."
Drug companies have lined the pockets of politicians, universities, and the medical profession (as a whole) for so long and with so much money that real change isn’t even on the radar. In fact, drug companies spend more money on lobbying than does any other industry. There are now two lobbyists for every member of congress.3
Through the promise of increased wealth, the drug companies continue to persuade (bribe) and brainwash the majority of medical doctors about the newest "great" drug. As reported by Melody Petersen in her book, Our Daily Meds, Dr. Martin Keller, the chief of the psychiatry department at Brown University, earned more than $500,000 in consulting fees, mostly from companies whose drugs he touted at medical conferences and in published reports.4
And bottom-line results clearly show that free samples, vacation "workshop" retreats to posh resorts, and free educational "classes" over gourmet dinners do, in fact, sway the opinion of doctors. Profits are soaring for drug companies. The top ten companies reported combined profits of $35.9 billion dollars in 2002. That was more than the remaining 490 Fortune-500 companies put together ($33.7 billion) for the same year.5
"The result of all those attractive women in short skirts armed with pseudo-science invading the practices of doctors is that Americans are over-medicated, taking far too many drugs, most of which they don’t even need, and they are paying too much for them," says Jerome Kassirer, another former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Americans now spend over $250 billion a year on prescription drugs. In fact, Americans spend more on drugs than do all of the people in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom combined!6
Spending on drugs continues to increase by an average of 12 percent each year. Drugs are now the fastest growing part of the staggeringly high American health-care bill, and over $400 billion is spent on prescription drugs worldwide.7
Drug companies must aggressively market their wares, lest the public and gullible doctors learn the truth about the drugs they peddle. First, they’re often ineffective. Second, they’re quite dangerous. Drugs aren’t the "magic bullets" that the TV ads would like for you to believe. Far from it, they are often no better than a placebo. Dr. Brian Spear, a scientist at Abbott Laboratories, reviewed the effectiveness of drugs used to treat fourteen different diseases and found that the recommended drugs worked for as few as 25 percent of those who took them.8
Dr. Allen Roses, a top executive at GlaxoSmithKline, has reported that some 90 percent of drugs work in only thirty to fifty percent of the people who take them.9
Drug companies definitely don’t want you to know that prescription drugs—taken as directed—claim the lives of 300 Americans a day.10,11
Nonetheless, drug companies are all too happy to provide us with an abundance of synthetic, often worthless, and potentially dangerous drugs for everything that might ail us.
While I applaud the PRMA’s new voluntary guidelines, I don’t think much will change. Doctors will still be paid to attend free seminars at posh resorts while their peers on the drug company payroll deliver highly manipulated data promising what they most likely can’t deliver—a safe and effective treatment. The American Medical Association and the other drug-company influenced associations have been swimming in a sea of green for so long, it’s hard to imagine their coming ashore.
Dr. Murphree is a board certified nutritional specialist and chiropractic physician who has been in private practice since 1990. He is the author of 5 books for patients and doctors, Treating and Beating Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Heart Disease What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You and Treating and Beating Anxiety and Depression with Orthomolecular Medicine. To contact Dr. Murphree or for more information about his Doctors VIP One-on-One Nutritional Coaching Program, visit www.Essentialthera.com or call 1-888-884-9577.
1. Relman A., “Defending Professional Independence: ACCME’s Proposed New Guidelines for Commercial Support of CME,” JAMA, May `14, 20003, 2418.2. Relman A., “Defending Professional Independence:ACCME’s Proposed New Guidelines for Commercial Support of CME,” JAMA, May `14, 20003, 2418.3. Public Citizens Congress Watch, “The Other Drug War 2003: Drug Companies Deploy an Army of 675 Lobbyists to Protect Profits,” June 2003 (www.citize.org).4. Melody Peterson, Our Daily Meds, Sarah Crichton Books, New York, NY 2008, pg. 25.5. Public citizen, “2002 Drug Industry Profits: Hefty Pharmaceutical Company Margins Dwarf Other Industries, “Congress Watch (June 2003), http//www.citizen.org/congress/reform/drug_industry/corporate/articles.cfm?ID=9923.6. Melody Peterson, Our Daily Meds, Sarah Crichton Books, New York, NY 2008, pg.5.7. Public citizen, “2002 Drug Industry Profits: Hefty Pharmaceutical Company Margins Dwarf Other Industries, “Congress Watch (June 2003), http//www.citizen.org/congress/reform/drug_industry/corporate/articles.cfm?ID=99238. Spear, et al., “Clinical Approaches of Pharmacogenetics,” Trends in Molecular Medicine (May 2001).9. Connor, “Glaxo Chief: Our Drugs Do Not Work on Most People,” The Independent (December 8 2003).10. Haley D, “The Other Drug War,” Alt Med Mag, Sept. 2001 Issue-3.
11. Gary Null et al., “Death by Medicine,” Life Extension (March 2004 web special), http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag/2004/mar2004_awsi_death_01.hym.