A Tale of Corruption and Greed

September 2002, Warren Matthews

Summary

Dr David Franklin, a former research fellow at Harvard Medical School and former employee of Warner-Lambert, now part of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had the courage to expose what he considered to be "an illegal marketing scheme that puts patients at risk".

Dr David Franklin, a former research fellow at Harvard Medical School and former employee of Warner-Lambert, now part of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer demonstrated that he had a conscience when he filed a lawsuit against his former employer back in 1997. He had the courage to expose what he considered to be "an illegal marketing scheme that puts patients at risk".

Central to his concerns was the way in which Warner-Lambert were marketing their FDA approved epilepsy drug 'Neurontin'. Presented as part of the court evidence was a voice mail message in which a company executive instructed sales reps that in order to market Neurontin effectively that they would also have to promote it to fight pain, bipolar as well as other unspecified psychiatric uses. These are applications that independent researchers say it does not work for and may cause serious side effects.

(Note: Epilepsy drugs are very powerful and must only be used very carefully. As a point of interest my cousins daughter has been on an epilepsy drug for 22 years and has had to deal with the side effects. She is just now starting a program using a natural alternative which is expected to enable her to wean herself off the drugs. It will be three months before the success of it (or otherwise) is known. I'll keep you posted.)

Experiment on Children

Company documents have been tabled that show sales reps encouraged doctors to 'experiment' by prescribing Neurontin to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD) in children. This is serious 'stuff'.

But, that's not the end of it. The company also implemented a program that they called "shadowing" in which they paid doctors $350 per day for allowing one of their sales reps to sit in their exam rooms. It's not clear if the patient was aware that the other person sitting in the exam room was a pharmaceutical sales rep. No doubt they were wearing a white coat so they may have been thought of as another doctor or a trainee.

At the end of each of these exams the sales rep gave recommendations to the doctors as to which medicine they should prescribe.

And, if that wasn't enough Court documents show that incentive schemes were put in place to reward doctors who prescribed high volumes of Neurontin. These were paid out in the form of 'consulting' fees. At the end of the day it doesn't cost the pharmaceutical companies anything for these payouts! Why? Because you as a tax payer are indirectly funding the payments thanks to the tens of millions of dollars that Medicare pays to the pharmaceutical companies each year for unnecessary drug prescriptions which are written for non approved applications.

There's More...

To ensure Neurontin was portrayed in a positive light in peer reviewed medical journals the company engaged in a practice commonly used by most pharmaceutical companies. That is, they would have their marketing firms write articles and news releases in the most favorable manner possible for the product. The draft would then be referred to the company's marketing executives for final review.

If acceptable they would then select various doctors to whom they would pay a fixed fee in return for being cited as the "authors".

The above story is unfortunately a typical true story of unethical marketing tactics by this industry. Of course we only get to hear of the "tip of the iceberg" as most of this information is suppressed or distorted. These practices tend to also flow over to the general media.

Much of the news that you see on your television relating to medical issues these days is not news at all but rather carefully crafted VNR's or 'Video New Releases'. These VNR's are in reality fake TV news stories which are produced and supplied to the media free of charge from PR companies. These are generally interwoven with the news and therefore passed off as news to the general public. This is a popular tactic prior to the release of a new drug or when a company is trying to 'fast track' a new prescription drug approval. This helps create public demand for the new drug.

These 'news releases' are followed up with drug advertisements that are high on emotion but short on facts.

2 Billion Dollars On Advertising

This follow up advertising is part of the 2 billion dollars spent each year on consumer advertising by pharmaceuticals companies. Is it effective...it sure is! According to a national survey, 'when a consumer asks their doctor for a drug they have seen advertised, 73% walk away with a prescription'.

The problem with a lot of drug advertising is that it will often 'medicalize' ordinary run of the mill problems in the eye of the public. All of a sudden a runny nose becomes allergic rhinitis or some other impressive sounding ailment which we didn't know about before but now needs to be treated with a drug.

There is no doubt in my mind that this practice of targeting the public with drug advertising is dishonest marketing as it tends to create a problem which sometimes did not exist before. Given that many of these drugs being promoted are by prescription only, one would think that the decision whether to use them should be a joint one between the consumer and their physician rather than the patient putting the pressure on the physician to supply a particular drug because they were influenced by a 'warm and fuzzy' advert.

Should Only Be Last Resort

It wouldn't be such a serious problem if it were not for the fact that drugs should only be a remedy of last resort. No matter what the drug is there are lasting and serious side effects from all of them that could take years to get rid of, if at all. When someone gets into the habit of regularly taking prescription drugs they are on the start of a slippery slide down... and is hard to climb back up.

Before you succumb to taking a drug, particularly if it is likely to be long term, make sure that you have thoroughly investigated natural healthy alternatives. There is generally a natural alternative for most prescription drugs. Just remember though that natural alternatives work at rectifying the cause of the problem unlike drugs that work on suppressing the symptoms. Consequently the natural option will generally take longer to work... but the wait is worth it for the improved quality of life.

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