Bioethics Blogs

Marketing Extremes That Even Give Big Pharma Supporters Pause

On
November 28, 2014,
The New York Times
broke another story about Big Pharma marketing extremes. Reported by Katie
Thomas and titled “Using Doctors With Troubled Pasts to Market a Painkiller
,
the article reveals that one drug manufacturer is taking usual and customary
sales strategies beyond the reasonable.

It
is
independently reported that pharmaceutical manufacturers spent as much as $27
billion in 2012 to promote their products.  (Curiously during the same year, Big Pharma itself reported spending about $48
billion on the research and
development of new drugs.  However, some believe the research and development costs are overstated because
government grant support and marketing and other expenses are included in the
totals.)

Pharmaceutical
companies have long marketed prescription drugs to prescribers. This appears to
be common sense because only authorized practitioners can prescribe legend or
prescription drugs. Manufacturer marketing takes several typical forms: sending
pharmaceutical representatives to offices with information about new products;
providing free samples for distribution to patients as starter drugs; giving
away relatively inexpensive items such as pens and other office favors labeled
with product names and logos; and offering free continuing medical education (CME)
programs at conferences and dinner meetings.

For
CME programs, Big Pharma usually engages speakers who are prescriber peers
recognized for their expertise and respected because of their best practices or
unique contributions. These authorities are sometimes called “key opinion
leaders” (KOLs) or “thought leaders.” Medical school faculty members are well
known KOLs and thought leaders that Big Pharma enlists both to conduct basic
and clinical research and speak at CME conferences and meetings.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.