Drug Companies Asked to Disclose Too Much

Published December 1, 2007

Drug companies are concerned about Minnesota’s efforts to make them publicly reveal their financial dealings with doctors statewide–something many experts say is a valid concern.

In an April 2007 cover letter, Abbott Laboratories General Counsel Charles M. Brock wrote:

“Enclosed please find Abbott Laboratories’ report identifying all payments, honoraria, reimbursement and other compensation, totaling $100 or more, paid to licensed practitioners in Minnesota during calendar year 2006 in connection with its businesses that market prescription drugs.

“Although Minnesota law identifies these reports as public data, Abbott considers the information contained in this report to be confidential, proprietary, and/or commercially sensitive. Abbott does not publicly release this information, in individual or aggregate form. Release of this information would undermine Abbott’s relationships with its contractors and consultants and allow competitors to gain a business advantage.”

Too Much Information

Richard Ralston, executive director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, based in Newport Beach, California, says the discussion about public disclosure of private corporations’ marketing strategies is just beginning.

“Those who receive compensation from these firms are primarily responsible for determining when conflict-of-interest issues require disclosure,” Ralston said. “I think disclosure is a good thing, and when in doubt it should be done.”

However, “publication of all payment information creates a flood of information that is absolutely useless to consumers,” Ralston continued. “The only purpose this can serve is polemical for those who want to attack the profit motive as such and imply that all drug firms are corrupt and all physicians are on the take.”

Justified Concerns

Hence, drug companies are justified in not wanting to make all their dealings public, Ralston said.

“I can understand why firms are reluctant to publish such information for the benefit of their competitors,” Ralston said. “No physicians are prescribing drugs because they got a free sandwich during a presentation. They are not able to prescribe needed drugs they don’t know about or whose characteristics they do not understand.

“Physicians should not be disqualified from prescribing a drug because they have some knowledge about it. Advertising is not bribery,” Ralston said. “Any physician paid for his time when learning about a new medication can receive the same consideration from any of its competitors. That does not create an incentive to prescribe any particular drug at a later date.”

Fran Eaton