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Mental Health Group Got Big Bucks From Drug Makers

Oct 22, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A congressional investigation has revealed that drug makers have been the biggest contributors to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).  According to The New York Times,  NAMI is one of the most influential treatment advocacy groups in country, but has long been criticized for its ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

We have long reported on the financial arrangements between the medical community and industry.  Critics of such relationships assert that they enable the medical products industry to unduly influence research and treatment decisions.  One of those critics, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), has been waging a campaign over the last several years to shed more light on those financial relationships.

According to The New York Times, NAMI has always refused to disclose information on its fundraising efforts.  NAMI was one of about a dozen advocacy groups that received letters from Sen. Grassley last spring requesting information about ties to the medical industry.

Documents obtained by Sen. Grassley indicate that nearly 75 percent of the donations NAMI received between 2006 and 2008 came from drug makers.  According to the Times, the pharmaceutical donated almost $23 million to NAMI during that time period.

According to The New York Times, while NAMI was benefitting from the largess of the pharmaceutical industry, much of the organization's lobbying efforts were beneficial to drug makers.  Apparently, NAMI has a lot of clout in state capitals, and has successfully fended off states' efforts to curb the ability of doctors to prescribe expensive drugs to treat mental illness in patients who rely on government health care programs like Medicaid.  Documents obtained by the Times also indicated that drug firms have given NAMI direct advice about how to advocate forcefully for issues that affect industry profits.

Now, even NAMI is conceding that its financial ties to drug makers might be a bit much.  A spokesperson for the organization told the Times that since 2007, "the percentage of money from pharma has been higher than we have wanted it to be."  Grassley's investigation has prompted NAMI to begin posting on its Web site the names of companies that donate $5,000 or more. The spokesperson  also said that next year, industry donations would drop "significantly."

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