As we learned from presenter David Cohen at that very same presentation, pharmaceutical companies (according to statistics from 2011) spend over $10.5 billion per year on marketing for four classes of psychiatric drugs alone.
10.5 BILLION DOLLARS. At the same time, many psychiatrists acknowledge that much of their information about specific drugs comes from pharmaceutical representatives. These are the same representatives who are paid a large percent of that $10.5 billion to convince people to use their product, NOT to educate and provide unbiased information.
So, do we have a right to say no to these pharmaceutical reps and their gifts of free food and other ‘perks’? Yes, actually we do. Laws vary from state to state, but it’s worth noting that:
- in Vermont in 2009, free meals to physicians were made illegal (see www.atg.state.vt.us/issues/pharmaceutical-manufacturer-payment-disclosure.php).
- Minnesota has similar gift ban laws, and a variety of other states have implemented various restrictions over the years (see www.healthlawyers.org/Events/Programs/Materials/Documents/PHY10/curi_vernaglia_resource%20list.pdf).
- In Massachusetts specifically, meals paid for by pharmaceutical companies are not banned but do need to be declared if they are over a certain amount. Massachusetts also maintains and makes public for viewing a database with all disclosures listed (found at www.mass.gov/dph/pharmamed).
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In looking at the Massachusetts database, we found that in 2011, $1,114,025.00 was declared by pharmaceutical companies for gifts of food. This database represents the minimum standard in the state. Pharmaceutical lunches are not illegal and may still be used as a tool, but gifts must be declared. However, there is also nothing to stop us from setting higher standards as individuals and organizations.
- “Our desire to respect the growing number of people we support, their friends and families, and people working here with experience using services in the mental health world, that have had serious concerns about the influence of pharma reps on the support and treatment we provide.”
- “Our desire to provide our medical staff with non-biased information about the medications available to be used by people with whom we work and all of their potential effects.”
- “Our desire to eliminate the potential for marketing information, gifts, money offered in exchange for participation in trials or speaking engagements, dinners and free lunches to influence our practice or to contribute in any way to the perception of such by the people we serve.”