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Iowa Doctors Say No to Drug Companies

Jan 24, 2005 | AP A group of doctors say they'll no longer accept free coffee mugs, pens or other trinkets and free lunches from pharmaceutical representatives in an effort to keep their brand names in view, along with hopes the doctors will prescribe the drugs.

"It's just plain ethically wrong and it's designed to color our judgment," Dr. Dean Abramson of Gastroenterologists P.C. said of the practice. "I don't think patients realize how much drug companies spend on this."

According to a report by the California Public Interest Research Group, U.S. spending on "detailing" efforts by drug representatives to reach doctors directly totals nearly $5 billion annually, costs that are passed on to consumers.

A notice posted at the Cedar Rapids office notes the "exorbitant" price patients pay for drugs, adding: "Although we are fully aware that discontinuing our lunches will not lower this cost, we feel it is necessary for our company to do so."

The American Medical Association guidelines, which govern what doctors can accept, include items valued under $100 and the lunches drug representatives bring to office staffs.

The six Gastroenterologists P.C. doctors voted last month to no longer accept the trinkets and lunches or meet with drug representatives who come to the office.

Pharmaceutical companies bring speakers to the dinners to provide physicians with the latest health information. But Abramson sees it differently.

"It's a bribe," he said.

If doctors across the country chose to no longer accept the lunches and gifts, it might make a difference, Abramson said, adding "I'd like to see doctors everywhere say, 'We don't need a free lunch.'"

Drug industry officials disagree.

Ed Sagebiel, spokesman for Eli Lilly & Co., the maker of Prozac, said the pharmaceutical company spends more on research and development in one week than it does in a whole year on advertising.

According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the pharmaceutical industry invested an estimated $33.2 billion in 2003 to develop new treatments for diseases, or nearly 18 percent of domestic sales on research and development, a higher ratio than any other U.S. industry.

Sagebiel said what Gastroenterologists P.C. has done is rare; most doctors value the role sales representatives play in providing useful product information.

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