Recently, I wrote about the anonymous physician, Hired Gun, M.D., who has made as much as $800,000/year giving talks for drug companies. Some were horrified, others may have been secretly envious. Here's a key question: Is there any way for "unbranded doctors" (to borrow a phrase from the National Physician's Alliance) to make that kind of dough?
Funny you should ask. Recently, I received a call from a large law firm specializing in securities litigation cases. The attorney explained that his firm was suing Eli Lilly for defrauding investors of stock value, because they had misled these shareholders about the negative side effects of Zyprexa. If Lilly had been honest, so the suit claims, investors would have unloaded Lilly stocks earlier, thereby avoiding losses as the stock price decreased in reaction to negative media attention, particularly this New York Times article.
So where do I come in? The attorney asked me to consult in writing a paper outlining the marketing points used by antipsychotic drug makers. This brief would be used as legal ammunition, in order to prove that Zyprexa's weight gain and hyperglycemia side effects led to loss of market share versus its competitors. If I accepted, I was promised $500-$750/hour.
I respectfully declined his offer, because I believed it would create an unacceptable conflict of interest. After all, in both this blog and in The Carlat Psychiatry Report, I write about antipsychotics all the time, and I was loathe to open myself up to a criticism like, "You're being paid to say bad things about Zyprexa."
While I'm comfortable with my decision, I know that there are several prominent critics of the pharmaceutical industry who accept this type of work, including David Healey and Adriane Fugh-Berman, both of whom I know personally and who are utterly ethical people. Aside from the money, I believe they do this legal work because it is fascinating, and because it contributes to our shared cause of greater transparency in the drug industry.
So, is consulting with legal firms an ethical way to make $750/hour? Probably so, but for me, having already had my own first-hand experience with the corrupting influence of money, it's just not worth the risk of it happening again.