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Houston Chronicle reports on efforts to clean up unsavory drug company marketing practices

The Houston Chronicle and the Associated Press recently reported on efforts by the medical industry to extract itself from unethical pharmaceutical manufacturers' sales practices.  While only one in four U.S. medical schools has solid ethical guidelines for interacting with drug companies, new standards are being proposed or implemented almost monthly.

Some of the unethical practices that have been heavily criticized by Senator Charles Grassley, Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the presitigious Journal of the American Medical Association, and others, include:

Manufacturers' researchers ghost-writing articles for doctors who endorse the efficacy of their drug.

Placing a misleading and deceptive spin on data used to approve new drugs, in order to minimize the risks of injury or death.

Misleading unwary physicians about the effectiveness of FDA-approved drugs for off-label or unapproved uses.

Sponsoring medical education seminars and conferences in a manner such that they become simply marketing tools for particular drugs.

Gifting to doctors, including expensive meals for doctors or their staff, airplane tickets to "conferences" at resort locations and six-figure consulting fees--perhaps directly determined by the physician's use of medical devices or pharmaceuticals. 

As Ms. DeAngelis described it:  "The influence that the pharmaceutical companies...are having on every aspect of so blatant now you'd have to be deaf, blind and dumb not to see it."  The Chronicle then provided an example of such "deaf, blind and dumb", or at least dumb, behavior:  Dr. Marc Siegel, an Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU said that he now gets fewer offers of tickets to ballgames and paid junkets, however, he still allows drug reps to bring meals to his office.  "I don't mind--I like my staff to get a free lunch."  We suspect there is no truly "free lunch" and if Siegel's staff deserves a free lunch, he probably earns enough money to buy it.

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