Are your sales reps doing you a disservice?

On Sunday nights, I volunteer in my local hospital's emergency room. I stock patient rooms with sheets, gowns, towels, etc.; bring patients in from the waiting room; run blood cultures (which can't go through the pneumatic tube system because they're in glass bottles) down to the lab; and anything else the medical staff needs me to do. There's a coffee machine in the nurses' lunch/locker room, and often when I go in there to get coffee for patients or their family members, I'll see literature for some new drug or other. On a coffee run last night, I noticed a homemade-looking educational poster detailing indications, contraindications, possible side effects, etc. for an anti-hypertensive, and as the ER wasn't especially busy, I took the liberty of asking one of the doctors about the source of the poster (i.e., did hospital staff put it together. or did a drug company provide it?). Little did I know I'd be touching a raw nerve. The physician -- a heck of a nice guy, by the way, who has always impressed me with his humanity and lack of ego -- launched into a rant on the paucity of morals, ethics and useful information that pharmaceutical sales reps possess. He charged that, more often than not, drug reps provide misleading or utterly incorrect information about their products. He added that sales reps are always urging doctors to use newer, more costly medications rather than older drugs with proven track records. In fact, he said, he finds drug reps' practices so disturbing that he refuses to eat food that they bring in for the ER staff. I reminded the doctor that I write for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and told him that his comments, though not entirely surprising, did give me pause. I'm no Pollyanna; we've all met people in healthcare and in drugmaking who seemed to be more interested in collecting a healthy paycheck than in helping patients get or stay healthy. But I'm willing to bet that a significant percentage of our readers went into pharmaceutical manufacturing for noble reasons, and I wondered aloud how they would feel if they knew what a disservice their companies' sales reps may be doing to them and to the years of hard work it takes to get a drug to market. We live in the Information Age, and everyone's jockeying for share of market and share of mind -- I get it.  A drug won't market itself, regardless of how good it is or how much good it can do.  But how did we come to the point where there is a total disconnect between the reasons a drug is needed and the ways in which it is marketed? Over two years ago, our former managing editor, Paul Thomas, wrote an editorial on Merck & Co. in which he quoted the company's former chairman, George W. Merck (1894-1957), as saying, "We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear." I wonder what George W. Merck would think about how business is conducted in today's drug industry? -HP
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