For most of us, blogging is a labor of love, and our payment is the possibility of having a positive impact in the world. So it was gratifying to see that the Indianapolis Star published this story prompted by my prior post about how Eli Lilly is paying CVS Caremark to sell doctors on Cymbalta for fibromyalgia.
Reporter John Russell did an excellent investigation, finding that the practice is more widespread than I realized. For example, he interviewed Dr. Matthew Mintz, an internist in Washington, D.C., who said he too had received a deceptive pharmacy drug ad, this one funded by Merck and encouraging Dr. Mintz to switch one of his diabetes patients from a different company's drug to Merck's Januvia.
The Star's Russell also revealed that Lilly had used the pharmacy-whore technique to sell Zyprexa in 2002, when it apparently paid another drug benefit manager, AdvancePCS, to send out 120,000 letters promoting Zyprexa to doctors nationwide. AdvancePCS hawked its services for $5/letter, meaning that they stood to make $600,000 from the scam. In documents forced public in the context of a trial, AdvancePCS officials wrote that this direct-mail campaign was "designed to influence key prescribers" as part of a "tactical plan for Zyprexa."
Lilly declined to say whether it took AdvancePCS up on the offer. Translated from PR speak, this means, "Yes, we did pay them the $600,000 but it was such an obviously slimy marketing technique that we will not admit it."
An Eli Lilly spokeswoman told the reporter that the latest CVS Caremark letter was simply meant to "share medically accurate and relevant information with health-care professionals," and denied that it was deceptive at all. I guess we'll have to wait for another trial to find out that this, like the earlier Zyprexa letters, was designed as a "tactical plan," this time for Cymbalta.
At any rate, the debacle may have a silver lining for us all, since Lilly told the Star that they are "re-evaluating the entire practice" of using pharmacies to market their drugs to doctors.
That's great. Lilly is quite proud of its good corporate citizenship. Last year, John Lechleiter, Lilly's CEO, crooned in this press release that "With each of our industry firsts, from launching our clinical trials registry to the public reporting of educational grants, Lilly is striving to be a leader in improving transparency across our industry. As Lilly continues to look for more ways to be open and transparent about our business, we've learned that letting people see for themselves what we're doing is the best way to build trust."
Dr. Lechleiter failed to mention that Lilly's decision to become a leader in transparency was done with a gun to its head--it was part of a corporate integrity agreement that was bundled with $1.4 billion fine for illegal off-label marketing of Zyprexa.