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Drug makers end free lunches

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39087.480069.DB (Published 11 January 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:64
  1. Fred Charatan
  1. 1Florida

    The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) has revised its code of ethics for the first time in a decade. The new code bars gifts or money from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries that could influence doctors' choice of drugs or devices they prescribe for their patients.

    The 26 companies that belong to the federation, along with hundreds of other drug makers, will be bound by the revised 21-page code.

    Big pharmaceutical companies sponsor continuing medical education, free meals, honorariums for lectures, and expenses for travel, and they give away free samples of drugs through their sales representatives.

    The IFPMA's director general, Harvey Bale, said that the resulting entanglement between the companies and doctors has become widespread and has “not helped” the industry's reputation. Studies have shown that the relationships influence doctors' prescribing behaviour (BMJ 2006;332:255).

    Dr Bale said, “We need to make sure the product is the best product for the patient, and it's not influenced by gifts, and it's not influenced by hospitality or vacations.” The federation has assembled a network of industry sources to monitor its members and a panel of compliance experts to hear complaints and appeals, he said. Practices that violate the code will be publicised.

    The code of ethics limits pharmaceutical companies to gifts that are related to work and of modest value, such as stethoscopes or medical dictionaries. Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics and director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, strongly objected to even this, saying these items should be banned too.

    “There's no reason to be giving away anything,” he said. “If they want to have marketing and education separate, then leave aside the stethoscope, key ring, or pen because that is pure marketing.”

    The revised code also deals with the locations of medical and scientific meetings. The code says these events should not be held in “renowned or extravagant venues” and the hospitality should not exceed what doctors would normally be willing to pay for themselves.

    Professor Caplan said, “They used to have a fair number of what could be described as junkets, so what they're saying is, ‘Knock it off.'”

    The new code does not regulate direct to consumer advertising or drug trials, unless a violation of other principles is involved, Dr Bale said.

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