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Keeping Mum

MagazineApril 2009 (Vol. 20 Issue 1)Keeping Mum

Everybody knows that drug companies pay doctors-or 'encourage' them through gifts and inducements-to prescribe their drugs

Everybody knows that drug companies pay doctors-or 'encourage' them through gifts and inducements-to prescribe their drugs.

Five states in the US even want you to know the precise details of these bribes, and have adopted special transparency laws to make the trans-actions publicly available.

Not surprisingly, the drug companies are rather less than keen on such a public display of openness, as one team of researchers has just discovered.

In Vermont, the researchers had to negotiate with the Office of the Attorney General before the papers were released and, even then, the research team had to manually photocopy each sheet.

They found that only 39 per cent of the cash and gift transactions were considered suitable for public consumption as the drug companies had classified the vast majority as 'trade secrets'. And three-quarters of what was publicly available did not identify the doctor concerned.

Nevertheless, the scant amount of information that was available showed that drug companies paid doctors in Vermont $2.18 million between 2002 and 2004. In Minnesota, which adopts a more open policy, doctors received $30.95 million in cash and gifts during the same time period (JAMA, 2007; 297: 1216-23).



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