July 13, 2012

Med Students Fighting To Keep Big Pharma Bribes Out Of Doctors’ Offices

Med Students Fighting To Keep Big Pharma Bribes Out Of Doctors' OfficesIf you’ve ever been to a doctor’s office, chances are you’ve seen pharmaceutical advertisements or even samples of the latest wonder drug. In 2011, ProPublica published a landmark database that showed how widespread the practice is of major pharmaceutical companies paying doctors to promote their drugs; some estimates of these payments find that as many as 25 percent of doctors have gotten some form of these payments.

Two years ago, the state of Massachusetts banned these gifts to doctors and imposed penalties of up to $5,000 for violations. Unfortunately, Massachusetts lawmakers recently voted to soften this gift ban, with the support of Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA), who this past weekend signed a budget which would allow, for example, the drug industry to buy modest meals for doctors.

While the state’s lawmakers moved to weaken the ban, one group that fought the changes was the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). AMSA has launched the PharmFree campaign to, among other things, attack conflicts of interest between doctors and the drug industry. AMSA students protested the change in Massachusetts law:

The budget plan has drawn criticism from more than 100 medical students, residents, and physicians, who signed a petition to Patrick June 18 to preserve the state’s existing ban on gifts from makers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. In an accompanying letter, David Tian, a medical student at Harvard University, and Reshma Ramachandran, a Brown University medical student, expressed concern that “the trust at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship is being eroded by the perception that doctors are ‘on the take’ from industry.” […] “We just don’t want doctors to receive what are effectively bribes from companies,” said Tian in an interview.

The defeat in Massachusetts is a bad sign for democracy, but the protests of AMSA show that the next generation of doctors is aggressively challenging the influence of the drug industry.