New Drug Marketing Guidelines Limit Freebies

Sorry, doctorsâ€"no more coffee mugs, no more pens, no more note pads, no more free restaurant meals. That's the gist of the new marketing code of ethics put out by PhRMA, the brand-name drug industry's trade group, which also suggests that drug companies cap speaking and consultant fees to doctors. Under the code, drug companies must also require doctors who are paid speakers or consultants to reveal those ties if they sit on committees that compile drug formularies or treatment guidelines.

Sorry, doctors—no more coffee mugs, no more pens, no more note pads, no more free restaurant meals. That’s the gist of the new marketing code of ethics put out by PhRMA, the brand-name drug industry’s trade group, which also suggests that drug companies cap speaking and consultant fees to doctors. Under the code, drug companies must also require doctors who are paid speakers or consultants to reveal those ties if they sit on committees that compile drug formularies or treatment guidelines.

The move is in response to increasing pressure from lawmakers and consumer groups, which see the gifts and payments as an attempt to influence doctors’ prescribing habits. The ethics code was unanimously backed by PhRMA’s member companies, and drug giants like Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer have publicly supported it.

Critics charge, however, that the new code should have banned fees for speakers and consultants outright. They also point out that the code still allows in-office catered meals, as well as funding for continuing medical education (CME) programs. In addition, some consumer groups maintain that, as a trade group, PhRMA has no enforcement power. In response, a PhRMA spokesperson points out that the code requires drug company CEOs to certify annually that they have policies and procedures in place to comply with code guidelines.