60 Minute’s indictment of pharma

QUICK READ: People are living longer with a better quality of life thanks, in part, to prescription drugs. When a news story breaks about pharma greed the whole industry pays a price and goodwill can be wiped out in an instant.

The story on 60 Minutes is a damning indictment of the opioid crisis and a pharma company that was willing to “play the system” to rake in profits. Hidden in the story though is another problem within prescription drug marketing: doctors who make lots of money to promote the drug to other doctors.

What happens when a physician REALLY believes that a new prescription drug is good for patients? Should they be able to talk to other HCP’s about the product? The answer, of course, is yes but when that doctor uses a pharma company to earn in the high six figures maybe someone needs to say “it’s time to put on the breaks”.

Doctors have every right to be compensated for their time and travel. When they do it for money instead of patients though something is wrong. The 60 Minutes story clearly showed that there are some docs who are willing to take big checks for promoting a drug, no questions asked.

I talk to a lot of thought leaders and they all have a drug that they feel is a game-changer for patients. There will always be some HCP’s who want the drug company money because to them “it’s easy money”. Good pharma companies recognize this and limit payments to one doctor.

The buzz on social media following the 60 Minutes story was predictable. The usual pharma haters were out in force which shows that regardless of the good the industry does all it takes is one media story to align the protestors.

2009 nationwide survey found that nearly 84 percent of physicians had some form of financial interaction with manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologicals, and medical supplies, the majority of which were meals provided in the workplace. Nearly 20 percent received reimbursements for attending meetings or continuing medical education (CME) events, and slightly fewer than 15 percent received payments for professional services. These numbers were significantly lower than those found in a similar survey conducted five years earlier. This decrease was likely linked to a number of factors, including broader changes within the pharmaceutical industry (which were accelerated by the financial crisis) that led to reductions in salesforce staff and shifting marketing strategies.

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act
Elizabeth Richardson

Most of the big pharma companies understand that they can’t pay too much to one doctor and try and recruit HCP’s with a variety of backgrounds. There is always going to be the one company that games the system and when they get caught the whole industry pays.

It should also be noted that most reputable pharma companies limit how much a physician can be paid in one year. 60 Minutes also forgot to mention the Sunshine Act which has guidelines on dollars directly to HCP’s.

After 20 years of working in the industry, I know that there are hard-working good people who understand that prescription drugs can make life better for a lot of us. I also understand that too many of us don’t take care of ourselves via exercise and testing right because it’s too hard versus taking an Rx.

The 60-minutes story exposed a rotten to the core pharma company that employed salespeople whose background was waitressing at Hooters. Their executives are paying a price and the company is now bankrupt but it’s another gut punch to the whole industry.