Five states in the USA even want you to know the precise details of these bribes, and have adopted special transparency laws to make the transactions publicly available.
Not surprisingly, the drug companies are less keen on this public display of openness, as researchers have just discovered.
In Vermont, which passed its disclosure laws in the last couple of years, 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.
Not that the effort was worth it. Just 39 per cent of cash and gift transactions were considered suitable for public consumption as the drug companies classified the vast majority as 'trade secrets', and three-quarters of that which was publicly available did not identify the doctor concerned.
Nonetheless, the scant amount of information that was available showed that drug companies paid doctors in Vermont lb2.18m between 2002 and 2004. In Minnesota, which adopts a more open policy, doctors received $30.95m cash and gifts during the same period.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2007; 297: 1216-23).
E-news broadcast 29 March 2007 No.346 [Subscribe]