April 2016 Newsletter

Recent Project News

  • Dr. Fugh-Berman's quote in the February 29 New York Times article on Addyi's extremely modest effects was reprinted in The Independent, Jezebel, HNGN, and Mic
  • On March 2, the American Council on Science and Health quoted Dr. Fugh-Berman in an article poking fun at Valeant (now the lucky owner of Addyi): "This company already has a history of unethical marketing," she said. "If [Addyi is] approved, I think this drug will be widely prescribed, and we would see an epidemic of adverse effects."
  • On March 3, Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in a Portland Tribune article about oncologist Vinay Prasad. Prasad is the co-author of "Ending Medical Reversal: Improving Outcomes, Saving Lives," and many articles, including an article in JAMA Internal Medicine showing that a third of speakers purportedly representing cancer patients at industry conferences were receiving money from pharmaceutical companies.
  • Dr. Fugh-Berman wrote a letter to the editor in the March issue of the American Journal of Nursing, explaining all the context nurses should need to actively recommend against Addyi.
PharmedOut's Resource of the Month: Have you registered for the 2016 Lown Institute Conference yet (April 16-17)? Dr. Fugh-Berman will be leading a workshop there on April 16. She and Roy Poses MD, of Brown University and the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine, will present "Overtreatment and Deceptive Drug and Device Promotion in the Context of Health Care Corruption". A description, and the weekend conference agenda, is available here.

April's PharmedOut Fodder

ProPublica Proves Why Lunch, 
and Other Gifts, Matter

For years, ProPublica has provided a public service by culling data into meaningful tools for healthcare consumers. Dollars for Docs is an easy-to-use database that allows you to find out how much money the pharmaceutical and device industries spent on, or gave to, your physician last year, and the Surgeon Scorecard assesses surgeons based on death and complication rates they have experienced for eight elective, common surgical procedures.

ProPublica has also been a standard-bearer in using this data to investigate important and fascinating stories. In March, they used 2014 physician payment records from pharmaceutical and medical device companies and matched them with Medicare prescription data for doctors.

The result is an eye-opening finding about how industry payments affect prescribing for Medicare beneficiaries and, quite possibly, other patients: "Doctors who got money from drug and device makers—even just a meal—prescribed a higher percentage of brand-name drugs overall than doctors who didn’t ... Indeed, doctors who received industry payments were two to three times as likely to prescribe brand-name drugs at exceptionally high rates as others in their specialty."

This comes as no surprise to PharmedOut, since our mission is to raise awareness about how industry marketing, particularly that which targets physicians, influences their prescribing decisions. And, how even gifts as small as lunch can make physicians feel subconsciously beholden to industry. It's a psychological phenomenon that we've written about and presented on, but that there has been relatively little research in this area.

That is what makes ProPublica's study so monumental to this cause. Even though it is common knowledge in the medical community that generic medications work just as well as their brand-name counterparts, and save patients and other healthcare payers money, industry payments have effectively given physicians temporary amnesia on this front.

As ProPublica notes, their analysis does not go so far as to point to the influence of one company or category of drugs. What it does show is that the systemic use of industry payments is having its desired effect: to boost branded drug prescriptions among targeted physicians.

Harvard Medical School professor and advocate Aaron Kesselheim is quoted as saying, "it again confirms the prevailing wisdom … that there is a relationship between payments and brand-name prescribing. This feeds into the ongoing conversation about the propriety of these sorts of relationships. Hopefully we're getting past the point where people will say, 'Oh, there's no evidence that these relationships change physicians' prescribing practices.'"

Yes, we hope so, too. Thank you ProPublica!

Pharma Fail

A PharmedOut friend recently received an email invitation to participate in a free CME course sponsored by and "supported by independent educational grants from Astellas and and Boehringer Ingelheim." When she unsubscribed from their email list, this message popped up:

Couldn't be more clear what pharma thinks of physicians that take industry-sponsored CME!

Do you have any #PharmaFail examples of outrageous or boneheaded promotional tactics? We would love to see them! Please send them to or tag us on Twitter at @Pharmed_Out.

Check These Out!

In March, the Huffington Post published a long-form investigative article called "Drugs You Don't Need For Disorders You Don't Have" by Jonathan Cohn. The piece focuses on Belsomra, a prescription sleep aid that was approved by the FDA despite being hardly more effective than a placebo, but delves into the pharmaceutical industry's campaigns to sell many unnecessary or ineffective treatments for people who don't need them.

The National Physicians Alliance is seeking physician perspectives on CME and marketing bias. Take their 1-minute survey here.

Have you ever had healthcare you didn't need? Consumer Reports would like to hear your story.

News Round-Up

(For more, follow @Pharmed_Out on Twitter!)


March 31

Drug makers paid fewer fines for bad behavior in recent years by Ed Silverman (Stat Pharmalot)

March 30

Prominent doctors group supports controversial moves to lower drug prices by Ed Silverman (Stat Pharmalot)

March 28

Pharmaceutical industry is lobbying hard against an L.A. County drug take-back proposal by Abby Sewell (Los Angeles Times)

March 26

For my next trick... (The Economist)

U.S. Seeks Records of 80,000 Novartis `Sham' Events for Doctors by Edvard Pettersson

Criticism as single drug accounts for over 85% of rare conditions budget by Paul Hutcheon (Herald Scotland)

March 25

Sprout Investors Say Valeant Overcharging for Female Libido Pill by Cynthia Koons (Bloomberg)

March 23

Officials to Congress: Help Needed for Overdose Fight by Shannon Firth (MedPage Today)

March 22

For Chronic Low Back Pain, Mindfulness Can Beat Painkillers by Nancy Shute (NPR)

March 21

How Money From Pharmaceutical Companies Sways Doctors’ Prescriptions by Charles Ornstein, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Mike Tigas (The Atlantic)

March 18

A window into one of the most baffling things about drug prices by Carolyn Johnson (Washington Post)

March 17

1 in 3 Americans blame doctors for national opioid epidemic, STAT-Harvard poll finds by Dylan Scott (Stat)

Warren takes on Shkreli's 'unethical' pricing by Sarah Ferris (The Hill)

March 15

U.S. agency issues new guidelines to limit chronic use of opioids by Ransdell Pierson (Reuters)

Fatal Mistakes by Sarah Kliff (Vox)

Massachusetts becomes first state to mandate drug take-back program by Arlene Karidis (Waste Dive)


March 14

Advertising drives traffic, especially Millennials, to pharma websites: Survey by Beth Snyder Bulik (Fierce PharmaMarketing)

March 13

Rattled by drug price increases, hospitals seek ways to stay on guard by Brady Dennis (Washington Post)

March 11

States Move to Control How Painkillers Are Prescribed by Barry Meier and Sabrina Tavernise (New York Times)

Is It Really A.D.H.D. or Just Immaturity? by KJ Dell'Antonia (New York Times)

March 9

Senate Committee Approves Legislation to Speed Approval of Medical Devices by Thomas M. Burton (Wall Street Journal)

Painkillers now kill more Americans than any illegal drug (video) (Vox)

Drug makers now spend $5 billion a year on advertising. Here’s what that buys. by Rebecca Robbins (Stat)

Solving Desire by Alyson K. Spurgas (New Inquiry)

March 8

F.D.A. Deal Allows Amarin to Promote Drug for Off-Label Use by Katie Thomas (New York Times)

March 4

Senators propose an end to pharma ad tax deduction by Kevin McCaffrey (Medical Marketing & Media)

March 3

Testosterone Gel Not the Fountain of Youth, More Studies on Risk Needed by Michelle Llamas (DrugWatch)

FDA opposes re-authorization of pediatric priority review program: GAO report by Ned Pagliarulo (BioPharma Dive)

March 1

How Big Pharma Makes Billions on Cancer Drugs That Are Thrown Away by Denver Nicks (Time)

Pharma goes to court in Ohio to stop drug pricing ballot initiative by Ed Silverman (Stat Pharmalot)

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