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Former Drug Sales Rep Tells All

drug rep, sales, salesmanShahram Ahari, who spent two years selling Prozac and Zypraxa for Eli Lily, told a Senate Aging Committee that his job involved "rewarding physicians with gifts and attention for their allegiance to your product and company despite what may be ethically appropriate."

Ahari claims that drug companies often hire former cheerleaders and ex-models, as well as former athletes and members of the military, even if they have no background in science.

During their five-week training class, Ahari says he was taught sales tactics such as:
  • How to exceed spending limits for important clients
  • How to be generous with free samples to leverage sales
  • How to use friendships and personal gifts to foster a "quid pro quo" relationship
  • How to exploit sexual tension
Ahari claims that he‘s even heard stories about sales reps helping to pay the cost of a doctor‘s swimming pool, or taking a doctor to a nightclub where a hostess was paid to keep him company.

For this work, sales reps often earned more than researchers. On top of a base salary of $50,000 for starting reps, Ahari says, "there were four quarterly bonuses, an annual bonus, stock options, a car, 401K, great health benefits, and a $60,000 expense account."
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Shahram Ahari must be one of the drug companies’ worst nightmares; he is one of the few who has witnessed the corruption firsthand, and then moved on to speak out about it.

By now, it’s old news that drug companies use extreme sales tactics to influence doctors’ prescribing habits, but to hear the extent of just how far things go -- buying doctors’ swimming pools or using sexual innuendos to make sales -- is still shocking.

"The nature of this business is gift-giving," Ahari said, and indeed it seems that in the world of pharmaceuticals, everything has a price.

Your Doctor Probably Has a Relationship With a Drug Rep

It is the rare physician who refuses to meet with drug sales reps. In fact, as of April 2007, the percentage was just 7 percent of U.S. doctors.  

Even I met with drug reps until the year 2000, at which time I just refused to see any. Before that I was actually a paid speaker for the drug companies. They would fly me to various physician education events around the country and pay me a VERY generous stipend to lecture to these groups. That was more than two decades ago, before I was able to remove myself from their very powerful brainwashing techniques -- and I was finally able to understand the truth of what they were doing.

So there is a very good chance that the doctor you see right now is being subjected to similar intense sales tactics like the ones Ahari describes. According to one study published in The New England Journal of Medicine:
  • 94 percent of doctors have some type of relationship with the drug industry
  • 80 percent of doctors commonly accept free food and drug samples
  • One-third of doctors were reimbursed by the drug industry for going to professional meetings or continuing education classes
  • 28 percent of doctors have been paid for consulting, giving lectures, or signing their patients up for clinical trials
Drug reps can be very sneaky. According to a report in PLoS Medicine co-authored by Ahari:

“Physicians who refuse to see reps are detailed by proxy; their staff is dined and flattered in hopes that they will act as emissaries for a rep's messages.”

Clearly these are no ordinary sales meetings; this is psychological warfare.

Sales Reps are Trained to Brainwash Doctors

Pharmaceutical sales reps are trained in tactics that are on par with some of the most potent brainwashing techniques used throughout the world, according to the PLoS report. Said Ahari:

“It's my job to figure out what a physician's price is. For some it's dinner at the finest restaurants, for others it's enough convincing data to let them prescribe confidently and for others it's my attention and friendship ... but at the most basic level, everything is for sale and everything is an exchange.”

Drug reps must target doctors because it is only through a physician that a consumer can purchase their product. Although in the United States they have also ramped up their direct-to-consumer ads on television and in magazines, their real “meat and potatoes” comes from their marketing directly to physicians.

This is why drug companies spend $4 billion each year on direct-to-consumer ads in the United States, but $16 billion to influence physicians. That is $10,000 for every single doctor in the United States.

The Drug Sales Rep Ambush

Most doctors don’t even stand a chance against a seemingly innocent drug sales rep. They appear friendly, eager to please, and knowledgeable about their product, and most physicians think there is no harm in accepting a free sample here, or a free lunch there.

Well, studies have shown that those free samples and lunches DO impact doctors' prescribing habits. So you can imagine what a more lavish gift -- like a free vacation, “consulting fee” or even companionship -- can do.

What they don’t get to see is the well-oiled machine that is controlling these reps, and ultimately the physicians as well, like marionettes.

From the instant a drug rep enters your office, the ambush is underway. Says Ahari:

“A photo on a desk presents an opportunity to inquire about family members and memorize whatever tidbits are offered … these are usually typed into a database after the encounter. Reps scour a doctor's office for objects -- a tennis racquet, Russian novels, seventies rock music, fashion magazines, travel mementos, or cultural or religious symbols -- that can be used to establish a personal connection with the doctor.”

In their PLoS Medicine report, Ahari and Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor in the department of physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center, even put together this chart of the specific tactics used to manipulate physicians.

What is the Moral of the Story?

Your doctor may have the best intentions in the world, but if they are being visited by drug reps, there is a strong likelihood they have been influenced by highly skilled, multinational, self-serving corporate interests and their opinions about prescription drugs are likely highly biased as a result. This can certainly happen even at a subconscious level, and the end result is a higher tendency to prescribe the drugs that have been marketed to them.

This is why I remind you often, taking ownership for your own health by leading a healthy lifestyle, and only resorting to drugs as a last option, is the key to surviving, and thriving, in the 21st century.

+ Sources and References