Leak is part of the drug industry's sales force of doctors who are paid to promote brand-name drugs to their peers. Drug companies claim they hire the most-respected doctors in their fields for this purpose.
But an investigation has uncovered hundreds of doctors on company payrolls who have been accused of professional misconduct or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists.
According to ProPublica:
"The implications are great for patients, who in the past have been exposed to such heavily marketed drugs as the painkiller Bextra and the diabetes drug Avandia -- billion-dollar blockbusters until dangerous side effects emerged."
What better pitchman to pedal your wares to your chief target audience than one of their own kind?
This is why drug companies commonly pay doctors to provide "expert" lectures about their drugs -- lectures that are targeted at the doctors they depend on to recommend, prescribe, and dispense their medications.
I used to be one of those lecturers. I was hired as a "rising star" shortly after I finished my residency training in 1985 and flew across the country lecturing on estrogen replacement therapy, and receiving healthy checks from the drug companies for doing so.
I stopped this a bit over 20 years ago when I realized that the entire approach was a scam. Fifteen years later all the major studies came out showing that estrogen replacement therapy actually radically increased heart disease and cancer, and did not prevent it like their manipulated studies suggested.
Unlike some of the physicians in the report above, I had no similar nefarious activities.
Currently there are tens of thousands of U.S. physicians who have replaced my lecturing role and are currently on Big Pharma's payroll, and they are often touted as leaders in their field, experts who have specialized training that make them uniquely qualified to teach other physicians about the benefits of any given drug.
But as an analysis by ProPublica found, drug companies are not always hiring "experts" to act as spokespeople. Instead, they're often hiring the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, including physicians who have some concerning pasts.
Drug Companies Commonly Pay Unscrupulous Physicians
ProPublica has put together a comprehensive database that reveals just how much drug companies are paying doctors, and you can even search for your own doctor to find out if he or she is being paid by the industry.
They compiled data from seven drug companies, including nearly $258 million in physician payouts since 2009, and found some revealing data about the paid speakers and consultants.
Their review found:
- Sanctions against more than 250 speakers
- Misconduct ranging from inappropriately prescribing drugs and providing poor care to having sex with patients
- Some of the doctors had lost their licenses
- More than 40 have received FDA warnings for research misconduct, lost hospital privileges or been convicted of crimes
- At least 20 have had two or more malpractice judgments or settlements
Two particularly shocking cases revealed by ProPublica involve pain physician William D. Leak and anesthesiologist Dr. Donald Ray Taylor. Leak was allegedly found to have performed "unnecessary" nerve tests on 20 patients, including subjecting people to excessive injections of agents that destroy nerve tissue.
Taylor, meanwhile, is said to have admitted to giving rectal and vaginal exams to young women without documenting why, and has been accused of exposing women's breasts during medical procedures.
Both of these physicians are highly paid speakers for drug companies. Leak received over $85,000 from Eli Lilly in 2009, and Taylor received closer to $200,000 from Cephalon in 2009 in the first half of 2010.
Clearly these are not the professionals most companies would choose for representation, but the drug companies seem oblivious to who is doing their promoting, as long as the promoting gets done.
Who is Advising Your Doctor on Which Drugs to Prescribe?
The idea that drug companies are recruiting only top experts and consummate professionals to do their promotions is a myth. In some cases, there are reputable physicians on their payroll, but many of the most prestigious universities, including Harvard, are now banning their staff from receiving money from drug companies for speaking.
ProPublica found 45 examples of physicians who were being paid more than $100,000 by drug companies despite their not having board certification in any specialty, and some not having any published research, academic appointments or prominent roles in professional societies.
Instead, industry whistleblowers have alleged that drug companies choose their speakers, as ProPublica reported, "on their prescription potential rather than their true credentials."
Sociologist Susan Chimonas, who researches doctor-pharma relationships, told ProPublica:
"It's sort of like American Idol … Nobody will have necessarily heard of you before — but after you've been around the country speaking 100 times a year, people will begin to know your name and think, 'This guy is important.' It creates an opinion leader who wasn't necessarily an expert before."
So the physicians being paid to counsel your physician -- who in turn may influence the drugs you end up taking -- are not only biased in favor of the drug company that is paying them a substantial fee, they may be vastly underqualified as well.
Drug Company Advertising is a PR Machine
Drug companies are master marketers, and paying physicians to speak on their behalf is only one trick they have up their sleeve.
They attack the market on multiple levels. For instance, many of the articles that appear in medical journals purportedly written by well-known academics are actually written by unacknowledged ghostwriters on Big Pharma payroll.
Drug companies also employ an army of reps who often give gifts to convince doctors to prescribe the medications that they represent. These drug reps usually have no medical or science education. What they do have, however, is training in tactics that are on par with some of the most potent brainwashing techniques used throughout the world.
Worse yet, drug companies have compiled hit lists of doctors to be "neutralized" or discredited because they were speaking out against certain drugs.
So when persuasion tactics don't work, the drug industry has shown it does not hesitate to ramp up the ante against dissenting doctors.
Pharmaceutical companies actually spend almost twice as much on marketing than research, and this is how they are able to keep their medications front and center in your physician's, and possibly your, mind.
So please remember first and foremost that drug companies are nearly always trying to sell you something that there are better natural solutions for. And your physician, too, if he or she is intertwined in the conventional medical field, may be inappropriately advising you to take drugs when better options exist.
I encourage you to browse through this site and get educated about how to get and stay well without drugs, surgery, and other often-unnecessary medical interventions. You can also read my nutrition plan for a comprehensive guide to get started.