Drug companies for decades have been showering doctors with small gifts like pens, clip boards, free samples, meals, as well as big time items like trips or cruises (to attend “conferences,”) and liberal consulting fees, all in pursuit of their bottom line, i.e. to persuade doctors to prescribe their products. I was once offered a private box seat to attend an NFL playoff game when my hospital department was negotiating a large contract for diagnostic pharmaceuticals.
Some doctors and public organizations are beginning to speak out against these bribes on websites such as No Free Lunch and PharmedOut. Legislators are also getting into the act both in Congress and Statehouses across the country, attempting to draft laws requiring drug companies to report major gifts publicly so patients can find out which doctors took what from industry. The State of Pennsylvania expects to save over $400,000 a year by employing 10 highly trained “unsales” reps whose job is to help doctors prescribe appropriate medications based on scientific merit rather than ad pitches from the visiting “detail man,” who for decades has been visiting doctors’ offices and distributing gifts and samples.
According to the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, a non-partisan group of state legislators who work on ways to reduce drug costs, 17 states have drafted legislation that would regulate gifts to doctors or require their disclosure.
So far, not one of these bills has become law.