Prescription drug manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb's self-imposed ban on advertising fails to address marketing to physicians on which drug companies spend five times as much as consumer advertising and is just as dangerous to patients, according to nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).
"Bristol-Myers Squibb's so-called 'ban' on advertising provides a false sense of security to patients whose doctors will still be targeted by drug company marketing," said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. "Drug companies spend five times as much on marketing to doctors than they do advertising to patients because they know their profits depend upon whether a doctor is motivated to prescribed the newest blockbuster."
According to a recent report*:
- In 2000 (the latest data available) drug companies spent $4.8 billion on "physician detailing," the practice of sending marketers to doctors' offices to encourage doctors to prescribe a company's drugs.
- In the same year, drug companies spent $2.4 billion on consumer advertising.
- Total physician promotional spending in 2000 was $13.2 billion -- more than five times that spent on consumer advertising. Physician promotional activities include detailing, providing samples and journal advertising.
Under current law "physician detailers" are not required to inform a physician about a drug's dangerous side-effects or the relative efficacy of a drug compared to a lower cost option.
In 2004, Pfizer settled a lawsuit for $430 million with the U.S. Attorney General's office that alleged that the company had promoted its anti-convulsant medication, Neurontin, to doctors for "off-label" treatments -- those not approved by the FDA. Among other things, government prosecutors alleged that Pfizer had:
- falsely told doctors that the FDA has approved Neurontion as a treatment for more conditions that the FDA has actually approved;
- paid doctors more than $250,000 to promote non-FDA-approved uses to other doctors; and,
- fired salespeople ("detailers") if they didn't recruit enough doctors to prescribe Neurontin for off-label uses.
* Kaiser Family Foundation, 2003
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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is a leading nonpartisan and nonprofit consumer advocacy organization.