Dr. Drug Rep

This article by Dr. Daniel Carlat reflects on his direct personal experiences working as as a psychiatrist within an American context. Published some years ago in the New York Times, it illustrates the undue power and influence of pharmaceutical companies, particularly in relation to mental healthcare, and as especially magnified by a mainly private healthcare system such as exists in the USA.

It begins:

I. Faculty Development

On a blustery fall New England day in 2001, a friendly representative from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals came into my office in Newburyport, Mass., and made me an offer I found hard to refuse. He asked me if I’d like to give talks to other doctors about using Effexor XR for treating depression. He told me that I would go around to doctors’ offices during lunchtime and talk about some of the features of Effexor. It would be pretty easy. Wyeth would provide a set of slides and even pay for me to attend a speaker’s training session, and he quickly floated some numbers. I would be paid $500 for one-hour ‘Lunch and Learn’ talks at local doctors’ offices, or $750 if I had to drive an hour. I would be flown to New York for a ‘faculty-development program,’ where I would be pampered in a Midtown hotel for two nights and would be paid an additional “honorarium.”

I thought about his proposition. I had a busy private practice in psychiatry, specializing in psychopharmacology. I was quite familiar with Effexor, since I had read recent studies showing that it might be slightly more effective than S.S.R.I.’s, the most commonly prescribed antidepressants: the Prozacs, Paxils and Zolofts of the world. S.S.R.I. stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, referring to the fact that these drugs increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical in the brain involved in regulating moods. Effexor, on the other hand, was being marketed as a dual reuptake inhibitor, meaning that it increases both serotonin and norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter. The theory promoted by Wyeth was that two neurotransmitters are better than one, and that Effexor was more powerful and effective than S.S.R.I.’s.

I had already prescribed Effexor to several patients, and it seemed to work as well as the S.S.R.I.’s. If I gave talks to primary-care doctors about Effexor, I reasoned, I would be doing nothing unethical. It was a perfectly effective treatment option, with some data to suggest advantages over its competitors. The Wyeth rep was simply suggesting that I discuss some of the data with other doctors. Sure, Wyeth would benefit, but so would other doctors, who would become more educated about a good medication.

A few weeks later, my wife and I walked through the luxurious lobby of the Millennium Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. At the reception desk, when I gave my name, the attendant keyed it into the computer and said, with a dazzling smile: ‘Hello, Dr. Carlat, I see that you are with the Wyeth conference. Here are your materials.’ …

You can read more from here.

Any reply would be very welcome


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