- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Dine and dash is done. Gas and go is gone.
Under increasing criticism for its sale practices, the pharmaceutical industry has adopted a voluntary code to govern marketing drugs to doctors. Having a sales representative spend several minutes pitching products to physicians as they wait to pick up a takeout meal or have their gas tank filled compliments of the drug company is no longer allowed.
Indeed, most of the gifts, entertainment and consulting arrangements drug companies have used to ingratiate their products to doctors will be prohibited or curtailed under the new guidelines, which go into effect July 1.
The new code comes as a shortage of new drugs on the market has intensified competition in the industry to sell existing medications. Critics charge that hefty marketing expenses are driving up the cost of medicines and are focused on buying doctors' loyalty rather than education.
Last year, the industry spent $13.2 billion promoting products to doctors. Nearly $5 billion of that was spent on the industry's sales force and its activities, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The nonprofit health policy research group said 61 percent of doctors say they have received free meals, event tickets or free travel from a drug company representative.
"We think there are some very valid concerns and as an industry we are looking at ways to address concerns while still continuing the very important work of educating and communicating to physicians information about new products," said Jeff Trewitt, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's District-based trade organization.
The organization has no way to force its members to abide by the new guidelines and critics charge sales representatives have ignored previous industry codes as well as their own company rules.
"It is a move in the right direction certainly. But I'm a bit skeptical. It sounds like it could be just a lot of public relations," said Dr. Robert Goodman, founder of No Free Lunch, an organization that lobbies doctors to reject industry gifts. "Whether anyone will abide by it or whether it can be enforced are big questions."
The industry and the American Medical Association use essentially the same code to govern the interaction between doctors and pharmaceutical sales representatives. Last August, the AMA announced a new campaign to promote the guidelines but it was sharply rebuked after it was discovered the industry was funding the effort.
Pharmaceutical executives say the new code is stronger than one adopted in 1990. For example, the new guidelines strictly forbid sales people from treating doctors to the theater, concerts or sporting events. Gifts such as golf balls, gym bags, flowers, and VCRs are off-limits.
The previous industry code left more leeway because gifts of nominal value were tolerated and very broadly defined, drug executives said. It was also OK to explain new treatments to doctors over a round of golf or drinks. Now the venue is supposed to be "conducive to providing scientific or educational information."
Pens, pads and textbooks are still considered OK, as is a reasonably priced meal.

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