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Alabama Physicians Earn Millions From Drug Companies

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I recently spoke at a seminar where we had a great discussion about ongoing medical device and pharmaceutical litigation. None of these companies paid for product attention. None of these companies paid for sponsorships. We were not promoting their products. Rather, we were discussing the injury, pain and death they needlessly cause.

Drug marketing is everywhere! You see drug and device ads on television. You see drug and device ads throughout newspapers and magazines. I have concerns about these direct-to-consumer ads for products that really require medical expertise. Yet, these visible ads are not the worst problem. What about the secret payments to physicians and medical groups in return for pushing selected products on unsuspecting patients? These same advertising drug companies provide millions upon millions of dollars to various physicians and medical groups. This includes payments directly to physicians. It also includes trips to fun places. I deposed a surgeon in one of my medical device cases who testified the device manufacturer regularly flew him to Las Vegas. Surprise! The medical device company put its “lab” near the casinos. The huge infusion of cash to select physicians who are supposed to be unbiased in their assessment and research raises serious questions. Would you like to know whether or not your doctor is receiving money from the pill company to push its product?

According to the Birmingham Business Journal, we now learn drug companies paid Alabama doctors $4.6 Million in 2009-2010. A recently released document shows that a single local physician, an internist in Decatur, even received over $200,000.00 in payments from GlaxoSmithKline, alone. Why do you think the drug company is paying a single local physician so much? For reference, that’s the same company that made billions marketing Avandia before the public became aware of its terrible dangers. The same company that apparently hid negative test results concerning Avandia. The same company that may have paid one member of the FDA advisory panel. Do you see a pattern of secret money to promote risky and dangerous products? I don’t mean to single out the local doctor just for pocketing $200,000 from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline. The same Decatur physician also received significant money from another pharmaceutical giant as well.

In fairness, I don’t know the relationship between the local Decatur physician I mentioned and his patients. I do believe, however, the process of marketing drugs and medical devices to patients is tainted by the flow of money to physicians and those involved with the regulatory process. What should be most important to us? Should it be drug marketing and sales? Absolutely not. Instead, the most important parts of the drug process should be safety and health. Safety and health should drive the desire for innovation. Safety and health should drive the desire for distribution to patients. If we ever want the process to focus on patient safety and health, then we must insist on a regulatory process that requires full disclosure by both the drug companies and the decision makers. That means full disclosure of the relationships and payments between drug makers and doctors.