How to Tell if Your Doctor is on the Drug Industries' Payroll
January 14, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
Drug companies are master marketers, and they attack the drug market on multiple levels.
On the surface level are direct-to-consumer advertisements, like the drug commercials you see on television and in magazines.
The next level is an army of drug reps who "educate" physicians about new drugs; a practice that includes visiting physicians personally, often with lavish gifts in hand, or offers of dinners and trips as persuasive perks.
As you dig even deeper, the next marketing "layer" are the industry-paid physicians, researchers and other medical experts who provide consulting services, research and lectures about drugs -- lectures that typically target the physicians they depend on to recommend, prescribe, and dispense their medications.
These "experts" are very much on the drug industry's payroll -- but they masquerade as independent medical experts or even state officials during their "day jobs."
Over $761 Million Paid in Just Over Two Years
The amount of money that drug companies are throwing at medical experts is nothing to sneeze at.
An ongoing investigation by ProPublica revealed that 12 drug companies paid $761.3 million to physicians for consulting, speaking, research and other expenses in 2009, 2010 and, for some, the beginning of 2011 -- and that represents only the disclosed payments.In all actuality, this figure is probably far too low.
As ProPublica reported:
"Only the companies that have disclosed payments on their web sites are included. Their combined prescription drug sales amounted to about 40 percent of the U.S. market in 2010. Though a substantial share, the data may not be wholly representative of the industry."
It is, by the way, 100% legal for drug companies to pay medical professionals to promote their products. The conflict of interest within this practice is obvious, which is why the drug industry often keeps quiet on their actual payments, as do the medical professionals involved. Although many medical, educational and research institutions require faculty members to disclose such potential conflicts of interest, many do not actively monitor employees' activities and, as the New York Times recently reported:
"Across the country, the reporting of such perceived conflicts has traditionally fallen short …"
Despite the commonality of this practice, I suspect many Americans would be surprised to learn that many thousands of doctors, researchers and other medical experts – some of whom you probably depend on to provide unbiased information and advice pertaining to your health care – receive large amounts of supplemental income from drug companies.
The New York Times recently highlighted some of the ProPublica data from Texas, where at least 25,000 physicians and researchers received $57 million or more from researchers over a span of just over two years. This included medical experts who were state employees being paid with taxpayer dollars!
As mentioned, in many cases we're not talking about a few hundred dollars. Often, the supplemental income is well over $100,000 a year, providing a very lucrative side business. As the Times reported, examples include:
- Dr. Joseph Bailes, an oncologist and the vice chairman of the executive committee at the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute of Texas, who was paid about $250,000 between 2009 and 2010 as a consultant for Pfizer
- Dr. Stanley Lemon, former director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch, currently with the University of North Carolina, to whom Pfizer paid nearly $80,000 for consulting
- Dr. Stanley Self, a part-time psychiatrist at Texas' state-run Rusk psychiatric hospital, who was paid at least $145,000 by drug companies from 2009 to 2010, primarily for speaking engagements
I Was a Former Drug Company Lecturer
My point is not to call out any individual physician or researcher who is currently receiving income from the industry. In many cases, these individuals do not believe the relationship influences their medical advice, research or prescribing habits -- although clearly the drug industry would not continue devoting millions of dollars to this type of marketing if it did not pay off.
Rather, the point is to expose the fact that in many cases, even prominent researchers and expert physicians are being influenced by the industry, whether they realize it or not.
I speak from experience because, in fact, 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 handsome checks from the drug companies for doing so.
I stopped this 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 radically increased heart disease and cancer, and did not prevent it like the drug industry's manipulated studies suggested.
Currently there are tens of thousands of U.S. physicians and researchers who have replaced my lecturing role and are currently on Big Pharma's payroll. 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, although some actually have very limited credentials and nefarious pasts.
Regardless, you always have to follow the money trail and take that influence into consideration, especially when it concerns a matter that could impact your health. Of course, paying medical experts for consulting, lectures and research is only one trick the drug companies have up their sleeve.
Drug Companies Pay Ghost Writers, Too
A new cross-sectional survey found that more than 20 percent of articles published in six leading medical journals during 2008 were likely written by honorary- and/or ghost writers. For medical journals, ghostwriting usually refers to writers sponsored by a drug or medical device company, who make major but uncredited research- or writing contributions.
The pharmaceutical company hires a medical education and communications company or MECC, which is a company paid almost exclusively by pharmaceutical companies to write articles, reviews, and letters to editors of medical journals in order to cast their products in a favorable light. (Since they pay substantial amounts to have these articles written, it automatically implies that it will be written to their specifications.)
Once the article is written to their satisfaction, the pharmaceutical company then starts "shopping around" for an academic physician or physicians who are well known in the field, encouraging them to put their name on the article.
From there, they "massage" the article past peer review in one of the more prestigious medical journals, preferably one that strongly influences practicing doctors. Once the article is published, the pharmaceutical company then purchases tens of thousands of reprint copies to be distributed to doctor's offices by their pharmaceutical representatives. The unsuspecting doctor thinks the study is reliable since it clearly appears to be written by a leading name in the field, and has been published in a prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal.
Why would medical journals play along with this apparent sham?
Perhaps the primary incentive to play it loose is that it's very lucrative for them, as the reprints purchased by the pharmaceutical companies for distribution are quite expensive. And medical journals are, after all, for-profit businesses.
Even "Independent" Media Outlets Receive Drug Company Dollars
The drug industry really has not left one stone unturned when it comes to controlling the information that is disseminated about their drugs, and this includes the media. It's a simple idea: if you don't like the bad press you're getting, why not buy out the media so you can have a say in what gets printed? For example, The Australian newspaper has reportedly accepted an undisclosed amount of sponsorship money from the drug industry for a series of health policy articles.
As retired neurosurgeon Russell L. Blaylock, MD put it:
" … We no longer have investigative journalists, we have a corporate controlled media. It is no secret that most media outlets are desperate for money, especially in this economy.
The lifeblood of all media is advertising. An independent analysis appearing in a peer reviewed open access journal published by the Public Library of Science estimated that pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. spent $57.5 billion on promotion in 2004, almost twice as much as they spend on research and development.
Virtually every TV news network, magazine and newspaper is filled with very expensive pharmaceutical ads. These media outlets cannot afford to lose this money and this allows the pharmaceutical companies to set editorial policy. Stories criticizing vaccines are as rare as hen's teeth. With billions to use for influence, one witnesses resulting bias in academia and government regulatory agencies as well."
Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which also has worrisome ties to the drug industry, spends $1.7 million for a Hollywood liaison as part of their Entertainment Education Program, which makes sure that when your favorite TV shows feature a health topic, that information is "accurate," or shall we say "CDC-approved." Have you ever wondered why you will rarely ever see a TV show that features a plot line including a vaccine injury or adverse drug reaction, even though they are incredibly common in real life? Now you know why.
Is Transparency in the Medical Field Finally Coming Our Way?
The bright light shining through all of these dark clouds is that in 2013 you will be able to determine if a health care provider you trust is actually on the drug industries' payroll, thanks to a new federal law that entails the following:
- Drug and medical device companies will be required to report and disclose all payments (including stock options, research grants, knickknacks, consulting fees, travel expenses and more) to physicians (March 2013). Unfortunately, payments to nurses, physician assistants, and other medical professionals will not have to be disclosed
- The information will be displayed in an online government database that you will be able to search (September 2013)
In the meantime, you can search ProPublica's database to see the disclosed payments made to physicians in your state. Many of the most prestigious universities, including Harvard, are now banning their staff from receiving money from drug companies for speaking, and this new disclosure requirement will hopefully push more institutions in that direction.
Breaking the drug industry's stranglehold on the conventional medical industry will not be easy -- after all, the drug industry spends nearly twice as much on promotion as it does on research and development -- but the tide is beginning to turn.
Increasing numbers of people are now waking up to these harsh realities, and you, being among those who are informed, can help share this knowledge with others. More than 1.5 million people receive this newsletter, and together we can make a huge difference.
The ultimate goal is to have a critical mass of people refuse the unnecessarily dangerous and counterproductive solutions currently offered by conventional medicine, as this will be the powerful stimulus to generate authentic change. You can also act now, on a personal level, by making the necessary lifestyle changes that will allow you to take control of your health, instead of leaving it in the hands of the drug industry.