FDA tip line tackles bad drug marketing

Nancy Marshall-Genzer May 24, 2010

FDA tip line tackles bad drug marketing

Nancy Marshall-Genzer May 24, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: Off banks now, onto health care. Any doctor who’s been in practice more than probably a couple years has probably been wined and dined by a sales rep from a big pharmaceutical company. Or maybe invited to speak at a conference at some fabulous getaway — all expenses paid, of course.

The freebies were supposed to boost sales of the drug in question. Those days are gone now, so all the drug reps can do is pitch their products. The FDA is watching that process, but it needs some help. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: Drug companies get the word out about their products in different ways. Through TV ads, with the announcer speed reading the side effects at the end. But they spend much more marketing medications directly to doctors. And those marketing claims are hard to police. So the FDA is deputizing doctors.

MIKE SAUERS: We are against misleading advertising. And there are circumstances where it does happen. That’s kinda why we have jobs.

That’s Mike Sauers. His job is consumer safety officer at the FDA. Before that, he worked for Pfizer. He was a sales rep for the pharmaceutical giant, so he knows the rules for marketing pitches.

SAUERS: It must be accurate. It must balance the risk and benefit information, and only include information that is supported by strong evidence from clinical studies.

The FDA set up the tip line earlier this month. So, far, it’s gotten about 70 e-mail complaints.

Doctor Rebecca Patchin heads the American Medical Association.

REBECCA PATCHIN: Many times the pharmaceutical representative can provide information. At other times you have to be aware that there is the incentive to sell a product.

Drug companies say the FDA’s willingness to accept anonymous complaints isn’t fair.

Peter Pitts is a former FDA associate commissioner who now does marketing for drug companies.

PETER PITTS: I think anonymous tips lead you down the wrong direction of people using these type of things for their own purposes rather than to advance the public health.

The FDA says it prefers tipsters who identify themselves. It’s also asking for evidence, like promotional materials a doctor found misleading.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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