Drug Industry Reconsiders Sales Tactics

Faced with a wave of criticism at the federal and local levels, drug industry advocates say it is time to rethink the heavy dose of pens, coffee mugs and other gifts doled out to doctors.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, usually a defender of the trinket-wielding tactics, said Monday it is in discussions with members to address those concerns.
"There's been a backlash to some of our members' sales and marketing practices," said PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson.

"While it's not bubbling up all across the country, prudence dictates that we take a look at the problem and see if we can address concerns of physicians and patients."

Johnson denied the group is responding to political pressure, but PhRMA has already spoken out against a proposal that would require drug and medical device companies to publicly disclose their gifts to physicians.

Sen. Herbert Kohl of Wisconsin, who co-sponsored the measure, said he plans to hold additional hearings on drug and device companies' gifts to physicians in coming months.
"I would be pleased if the pharmaceutical industry seriously strengthened their self limitations," Kohl said. "However, if their voluntary approach hasn't worked over the past six years, I'm unsure whether it would work now."

Johnson said in an interview the group is in "early-stage discussions" about marketing practices, and said there is no deadline for action. However, the group may consider revising its 2002 code of conduct for sales professionals.

The code states that all forms of entertainment, including sporting events and golf outings, are inappropriate. The guidelines also say only modest meals should be allowed in connection with educational presentations, and no free gift should be worth more than $100.

According to one estimate in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the pharmaceutical industry spends about 90 percent of its $21 billion annual marketing budget on wooing doctors.

The industry's hints at self criticism mark a shift from PhRMA's traditional stance as the unapologetic defender of companies such as Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline. In the first half of 2007, the group spent more than $10 million dollars lobbying Congress on industry's behalf.

While the prescription drug industry has long faced criticism from a handfull of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, it is now trying to fend off a more homegrown backlash from doctors and local governments across the country.

Earlier this month Minnesota-based hospital operator SMDC made headlines when it emptied its offices of more than 18,000 pharmaceutical industry freebies. The operator said it plans to ship the pens, mouse pads and other items to a charity in the west African nation of Cameroon.
No Free Lunch, a nonprofit, has made inroads at medical schools nationwide, urging students to pledge they will not accept free gifts or meals from the drug industry.

Next month, Washington D.C. is expected to become the first U.S. city to legally require that drug sales representatives be licensed and obey a code of conduct.

Efforts to curb drug promotions by lawmakers in New Hampshire and Maine were knocked down in federal court, on grounds they violated free speech.

Source : www.chron.com

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