- Ray Moynihan, visiting editor, BMJ, and conjoint lecturer
- 1University of Newcastle
In the heart of Manhattan Island one misty morning a few years back, I watched as hundreds of psychiatrists streamed into their flagship educational event, the annual congress. 1 Even before arriving they were welcomed by giant advertising billboards on the streets outside, plastered with the name of a major sponsor, Pfizer, the biggest drug company in the world and the maker of Zoloft, the world’s top selling antidepressant. Once inside, their first port of call was the huge exhibition hall, where well dressed salespeople moved among the high tech booths and hypnotic neon, exchanging pleasantries with doctors lining up to play video games and win prizes. And then, of course, there were the sponsored educational sessions. That year—2004—psychiatrists learnt about bipolar disorder over breakfast at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, courtesy of Eli Lilly. Over lunch at the Grand Hyatt they studied maternal depression, thanks to GlaxoSmithKline, and for dinner it was generalised anxiety disorder in the grand ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel, funded by Pfizer.
Although the educational flagships of many medical specialties proudly fly the colours of their drug company sponsors, psychiatry has long been suspected as being most entangled with industry; a suspicion that is confirmed by the world’s nascent disclosure regimes. In the small northeastern state of Vermont, where drug makers must now disclose payments to doctors, psychiatrists are the biggest recipients.2 In Australia, where the courts have forced the industry to disclose the details of every sponsored event, psychiatrists are “educated” with industry’s hospitality more often than any other subspecialty.3
Increasingly anxious about the industry’s influence over their education a small group of psychiatrists in Australia has tried to wind back drug company sponsorship …