Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's Official: "Maybe One Glass of Wine"

Marjorie Powell, Esq., the head lawyer for PHRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America), has just made it official: your drug rep can't buy you more than one glass of wine at the educational dinner meeting you attend. This pronouncement was made today at a Senate Hearing entitled "Paid to Prescribe? Exploring the Relationship Between Doctors and the Drug Industry."

Senator Claire McCaskill (R., Missouri) elicited this embarrassing lie after she told a story about how her brother, who owns a restaurant, said that his biggest profits came from renting out a private room to pharmaceutical companies giving dinner programs for doctors. The amount of expensive wine consumed at these dinners was astonishing, said Senator McCaskill. How could PHRMA claim that this money is spent for medical education, she asked Ms. Powell, when it appears to be nothing more than a lobbying tactic?

In response, Ms. Powell attempted to deflect the question, but the Senator was relentless: "Do you pay for alcohol?" Finally, cornered, Ms. Powell fumblingly outlined the official policy of PHRMA: "Maybe one glass of wine," she said, and she then admitted that any amount of wine was not ideal for promoting medical education, or for improving patient care. "Much better would be to provide some pizzas for the nurse practitioners, who are the ones seeing many of the patients," she said.

I urge interested parties to watch the hearing via webcast, as I did. Unfortunately, I just tried the webcast link and it appears to be broken. The written testimony is available, however, and includes some interesting comments from Jerry Kassirer (former editor in chief of NEJM), Peter Lurie of Public Citizen, Gregory Rosenthal (a retinal specialist who describes a $5 billion treatment pushed by the retinal industry), and Rep. Sharon Treat of Maine.

And if you want to hear our own AMA's bland party line, cue up the testimony of Robert Sade, the Chair of the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. This makes for great bedtime reading, since you won't get too far before slow wave sleep kicks in. Poor Dr. Sade had nothing to say for himself. When Senator Herb Kohl, the Chairman of the Committee, asked Dr. Sade how he felt about Minnesota's law requiring disclosure of drug company payments to physicians, he responded, "The analysis of that data is incomplete", and that "the AMA will be developing a position on that soon." Thanks for representing the ethics of America's physicians, Dr. Sade!

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