Drug Marketing

Drug marketing has two major audiences: doctors and the public. Marketing to doctors begins during medical school as students quickly learn that pharmaceu- tical companies provide a ready source not only of drug samples and information but also of pens, notepads, lunches, and all-expense-paid “educational” confer- ences at major resorts. After graduation, the pharmaceutical industry continues to serve as doctors’ main source of information about drugs. The Physicians’ Desk Reference (or PDR), the main reference doctors turn to for drug information, is solely composed of drug descriptions written by drug manufacturers. In addi- tion, the pharmaceutical industry spends $6000 to $11,000 (depending on medical specialty) per doctor per year to send salespeople to doctors’ offices on top of the money it spends advertising drugs to doctors in other ways. Most doctors meet with pharmaceutical salespeople at least four times per month and believe their behavior is unaffected by these salespeople. Yet doctors who meet with drug salespeople prescribe promoted drugs more often than do other doctors—even when the promoted drugs are more costly and less effective than the alternatives. In addition, the pharmaceutical companies now surreptitiously provide much of the “continuing education courses” doctors must take each year by paying for-profit firms to teach the courses and to arrange with universities to accredit the courses.

In recent years, and as noted previously, marketing directly to consumers has become as important as marketing to doctors. To the companies, such advertising is simply an extension of normal business practices and no different from any other form of advertising. Moreover, they argue, advertising to consumers is a public service because it can encourage consumers to seek medical care for problems they otherwise might have ignored. Finally, companies have argued that these advertisements pose no health risks because consumers still must get prescriptions before they can purchase drugs, thus leaving the final decisions in doctors’ hands. Those who oppose such advertisements, on the other hand, argue that the advertisements are frequently misleading, encourage consumers to pressure their doctors into prescribing the drugs, and encourage both doctors and patients to treat normal human conditions (such as baldness) with pharmaceutical drugs

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