Eli Lilly & Co. is continuing to pay a major insurance company to provide sham education to psychiatrists about the liability risks of prescribing potentially toxic medications like Zyprexa.
The courses, entitled "GET THE FACTS: Understanding Professional Liability Risk Associated with Prescribing Medications,” are being heavily promoted to thousands of U.S. psychiatrists via mailings, and are offered both online and in the context of lavish free dinner programs. Although funded by Lilly, they are taught by PRMS, Inc. (Professional Risk Management Services), a risk management company that manages The Psychiatrists’ Program, a malpractice insurance policy tailored for psychiatrists.
The central message of these “educational” programs is that psychiatrists are unlikely to be sued for prescribing medications that may have toxic side effects. According to the course, “there are effective ways to decrease risk related to prescribing, and if a lawsuit is filed, the risk of a plaintiff prevailing is low.” While Zyprexa is never actually mentioned in the programs, it is clear that the intent of the courses is to convince psychiatrists that they are unlikely to be successfully sued by patients claiming that Zyprexa has caused obesity or diabetes.
There are numerous veiled allusions to Zyprexa in the course. In the introductory section, for example, they state that “Advancements in medicine usually add to the complexity of treatment and at the same time increase patients’ unrealistic expectations about treatment outcomes. Patients may be less likely to accept that unexpected and adverse outcomes are a part of treatment. Even in the absence of negligence, there are always risks of medical treatment that must be weighed against the benefits.” This mirrors the common theme of Eli Lilly promotional material for Zyprexa, namely, that it is more important to focus on the clinical benefits of the medication rather than the risks associated with it.
Lilly’s extraordinarily deceptive marketing tactic takes on new relevance with the unsealing two days ago of internal company documents in the State of Alaska’s suit against the drug-maker. According to Bloomberg News, an instruction sheet given to Lilly sales reps in 2002 stated that: “We believe it is essential to weaken this link to neutralize the diabetes/hyperglycemia issue. Neutralizing any concern from our customers will be essential to the future growth of Zyprexa in the marketplace.” Meanwhile, the company’s own data showed that patients taking Zyprexa had 3.5 times the rate of high blood sugar as patients taking a placebo.
PRMS’s psychiatry insurance program is the only malpractice program receiving an official endorsement from the American Psychiatric Association. While the APA neither endorses nor participates in this educational exercise, the fact that it endorses PRMS means it may have leverage in curtailing the company’s unethical activities. Psychiatrist and APA member Dr. David Port originally alerted me to these shenanigans, and we have jointly sent a letter to the APA requesting that the organization ask PRMS to cease this program immediately. I will keep you informed of any developments.