Free Drugs for Doctors from Drug Makers Can Lead to Harm for Patients

Chicago Tribune staff reporter Bruce Japsen reported that gifts which are showered on doctors by drug and medical device makers have become so pervasive that they are a standard part of virtually every United States physician’s practice.

“Despite self-policing initiatives launched by organized medical groups and the drug and device makers to curb the cozy relationship between physicians and industry, 94 percent or virtually all physicians have at least one type of relationship with the drug industry, according to a study which was scheduled to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine..

Drug marketing and conflict of interest between doctors and medical product companies have come under scrutiny because of their impact on cost and because of safety issues involving heavily promoted drugs. Eric Campbell, the studies lead researcher and co-author who is an associate professor of medicine at the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, says that “relationships with industry are a fundamental part of the way medicine is practiced today.” He went on to say that consumers have a reason to be concerned about what the study found.

The American Medical Association guidelines, which are voluntary, say that any gift to a physician should “primarily entail a benefit to patients and should not be of substantial value”. When physicians accept gifts they should be worth less than $100 and “benefit patients.” Studies suggest that many doctors do not always follow the AMA guidelines.


The drug industry lobby, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America, said that its member companies have been working to eliminate certain relationships and in 2002 established guidelines to curb such sales tactics as golf outings, entertainment and “dine and dash” dinners that drug companies order at restaurants for doctors to pick up. The lobby states, however, that modest meals provided for doctors at their office are okay.

Some doctors argue that the free samples they get from the drug companies are needed particularly when their practices care for uninsured patients who can’t afford drugs.

Dr. Kristin Coyle, a family physician in Sterling, Illinois said her patients have been hit hard by unemployment and that she allows drug representatives to drop off free samples and that they are also allowed to make an educational presentation to explain how a new drug or device works.

Some say, however, that doctors should at least let it be known to their patients that they have a relationship with drug makers and why that relationship exists. Jamie Reidy, a former Pfizer sales representative who wrote a book about his experiences selling Viagra and other Pfizer drugs, says that patients should be concerned about these relationships. In some cases they are getting a drug simply because the doctor just got back from an advisory board and was pumped full of propaganda about that drug. However, if the doctor truly believes that a drug is best for that patient, that it’s fine to prescribe the drug.