Glaxo-Smith-Kline’s ‘pheasant hunting junkets in Europe’ and other illegal kickbacks to doctors show that the strongest possible ban on inappropriate gifts is needed.
(Guest commentary by Wells Wilkinson, from Community Catalyst’s Prescription Access Litigation Project)
Yesterday’s new record-breaking settlement of $3 billion with Glaxo-Smith-Kline provides even stronger proof that the Massachusetts ban on inappropriate drug industry gifts to doctors is essential to preserving the integrity of patient care. The settlement and related documents revealed that GSK salepeople paid or compensated doctors through illegal kickbacks related to seven different drugs: Avandia, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Imitrex, Lotronex, Flovent and Valtrex.
“GSK’s salesforce bribed physicians to prescribe GSK products using every imaginable form of high priced entertainment, from Hawaiian vacations to paying doctors millions of dollars to go on speaking tours to a European pheasant hunt to tickets to Madonna concerts, and this is just to name a few,” said Carmin M. Ortiz, U.S. attorney in Massachusetts.
These expensive dinners were used by GSK to illegally promote the unapproved use of the drug Paxil to treat depression in children under 18. At the same time, the salespeople were giving doctors lavish spa treatments, while misrepresenting how effective Paxil was for these vulnerable patients, and withholding studies that failed to show Paxil was effective.
And GSK illegally promoted the drug Wellbutrin by paying ‘millions’ to doctors to travel to lavish resorts.
Yet at a time when state and federal regulators and investigators are ferreting out these illegal and inappropriate practices, Glaxo-Smith-Kline and big Pharma are throwing their weight around at the Massachusetts State House, and have succeeded in weakening the state’s ban on industry wine-and-dine practices in a budget bill to be sent to the Governor.
Why have these practices, more and more commonly seen as a form of bribery, become so widespread? Because they work.
The reality is that if a new and expensive brand-name drug is uniquely effective, doctors will not need all these kinds of gifts to try it.
But if it’s a brand-name drug that is competing against other more affordable alternatives, that’s where these lavish marketing practices come in.
As Dr. Marcia Angel, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said “The fact is that marketing is meant to sell drugs, and the less important the drug, the more marketing it takes to sell it. Important new drugs do not need much promotion.”
The Governor should take this to heart, and veto the partial repeal that stands to weaken the strong gift ban law here in Massachusetts.