The blood pressure drug Bystolic hit the market in 2008. It faced a slew of cheap generics, so its maker, Forest Laboratories, needed to devise a plan. They launched a promotional assault targeted straight at the people scribbling on the pads: prescribing doctors. “It flooded the offices of health professionals with drug reps, and it hired doctors to persuade their peers to choose Bystolic — even though the drug hadn’t proved more effective than competitors,” says NPR in a damning exposé that includes some shocking numbers.
According to the article, at least 17 of the top 20 Bystolic prescribers in Medicare’s prescription drug program in 2010 have been paid by Forest to deliver promotional talks. And they together received $284,700 for speeches and more than $20,000 in meals in 2012. And it’s not just us over here at Atlas MD going, hmmm, I bet they prescribed a lot of the beta blocker Bystolic. NPR reports that in the 2012 fiscal year, sales of Bystolic reached $348 million, almost double its total from two years earlier.
But there’s still the question of whether the drug is superior. That could be one explanation for the high sales. The No. 1 prescriber of Bystolic, Los Angeles cardiologist Gary Reznik, actually said, “If you don’t have to be on a beta blocker, I would not start you on a beta blocker. If you have to have a beta blocker, Bystolic would be my choice.” Oh, and we forgot to add that he was paid $3,750 to give talks by Forest in 2012.
So is Bystolic superior to other beta blockers?
Several prominent cardiologists say no studies have proved that the benefits cited by Bystolic’s top prescribers are real. That’s about as close to a no as you can get in science. Especially since last time we checked, science, research specifically, works backwards per se. You DISPROVE things. And once you can’t disprove something, it’s accepted for as long as it stands up to rigorous testing and observation (think Classical Mechanics, which is genius, but since replaced by newer theories like Quantum Mechanics, relativity, etc.) The fact that drug companies are getting away with actually making things up is appalling. It’s straight up bad science.
What’s worse is that this scenario of drug company schmoozing doesn’t even make good fiction, where arbitrary events TEACH us something, or MOVE us emotionally. It looks like drug companies are getting away with making up claims, and then paying doctors off to prescribe MORE EXPENSIVE meds. This isn’t just red tape. This is being tied to a chair with red tape, especially since taxpayers are stuck footing the bill for Medicare, which goes to cover these prescriptions in many cases. I think we’ve already come to accept that insurance, in its totality, is a system of entrenched greed. But this is sad news, since doctors now seem complicit to this gratuitous price gouging.
We recommend giving this complete article a read. It goes on to show data that similar tactics were used by Novartis who makes an Alzheimer’s drug called Exelon; Johnson & Johnson who makes painkiller Nucynta; and GSK’s asthma drug Advair Diskus.
And on a side note, check out this screengrab from our emerging EMR platform for direct care doctors.
Yep, that’s honest to goodness price transparency. Now we’re not saying we’re going to cut ALL the red tape. But at least we’re loosening a knot or two.
“Top Medicare Prescribers Rake In Speaking Fees From Drugmakers” | NPR