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Call it Big Pharma U.  It's the commonplace practice of drug companies and medical device manufacturers to flood medical schools with millions of dollars in cash, gifts and free samples. Now there are encouraging signs the abuses may be ending.

In April a Task Force of the American Association of Medical Colleges issued a report urging tough new guidelines that would ban some of the most egregious policies.  As a New York Times editorial noted:

"Outright bans would be imposed on personal gifts, industry-supplied food and meals, free travel that is not reimbursement for services and payment for attending industry-sponsored meetings. Also outlawed are the notorious ghostwriting services, in which a drug company drafts a journal article and then persuades a respected academic to sign on as the lead author, giving it a gloss of objectivity that it may not deserve.

"Free drug samples, though not banned, would generally have to be accepted by a central pharmacy, presumably capable of assessing their value, not by individual doctors more susceptible to sales pitches."

Two years in the making the, the report is supposed to be considered by the AAMC's Executive Council during its June 18-19 meeting.

Just how important it is to end Big Pharma U, was made clear by the American Medical Student Association in a report released today.  The 67,000 member association of medical and premedical students, residents and practicing physicians found that most U.S. medical schools are failing to address conflicts of interest caused by pharmaceutical industry marketing.

The New York Times reported that "Only 7 of the 150 medical schools included in the rankings received a grade of A while 14 were given a B. Sixty got a failing grade, and the student association found that 28 schools, or nearly one in five, were in the midst of revising their conflict-of-interest policies"

You can read complete the AMSA PharmFree Scorecard with details of all 150 schools here.

Why does this matter? Because it's just the tip of the iceberg in Big Pharma's direct marketing to doctors. ASMA explains it this way:

"Pharmaceutical industry marketing to doctors has been estimated at $28 billion to $46 billion per year, with additional promotion by the medical device industry. This equates, conservatively, to $35,000 per year in marketing directed at each physician, on average. More than 100,000 pharmaceutical sales representatives regularly visit U.S. physicians, providing free lunches, gifts, medication samples and carefully-selected medical literature to promote their products. These presentations and personal relationships are designed to influence doctors to prescribe more drugs and more expensive drugs and have often become a substitute for objective medical evidence."

Traditionally the abuse has started in medical school. It's refreshing to see the students saying, "Stop."  Doctors should be prescribing medicine based on science, not marketing relationships.