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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19642

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Doctors accepting payments from drug companies
ABC News 2011 Oct 16

Full text:

A former pharmaceutical saleswoman has told the ABC she regularly paid senior Australian doctors to deliver promotional presentations to other doctors about new drugs.

Petra Helesic, who worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 10 years, says Australian specialists were offered free trips to international conferences and paid to deliver presentations that often used drug company slides.

Ms Helesic told Radio National’s Background Briefing that specialists, also known as key opinion leaders, would be used to promote the industry’s key marketing messages.

“All I can say is that I’ve never had a key opinion leader that came back from an international conference and said ‘I will not back up your drug’,” she said.

She says it is common for specialists to be offered free trips to international conferences where they are paid up to $1,500 per presentation.

Peak body Medicines Australia says the pharmaceutical industry is considering greater transparency as part of a review of its code of conduct.

But the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has strongly defended doctors who accept hospitality or speaking fees from drug companies.

It says it is strongly opposed to publicly naming doctors who attend drug company-funded events or accept fees for promoting pharmaceuticals.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton told Radio National’s Background Briefing a registry could jeopardise the reputations of the doctors who are on it.

“It’s not a secrecy issue, it’s really a matter of being realistic about looking after the rights of both the patients but also the rights of the doctors. I guess there’s concern that just because you’re on a register that somehow that besmirches your reputation,” he said.

Dr Hambleton says the specialists play an important role.

“We would argue that there’s a lot of benefits for a new specialist to meet the GPs in their area, and in many cases when these things are organised, the organising committee is separate to the pharmaceutical company,” he said.

Ms Helesic also says pharmaceutical company representatives were given cash bonuses if they could get a certain number of people on the latest drug.

Documents show that in the case of the antidepressant Cymbalta, Australian sales reps were offered large bonuses even after concerns were raised over the drug’s side-effects.

Ms Helesic says her company paid bonuses of up to $8,000 for sales of Cymbalta.

“We would have a target, so that would be the 100 per cent of sales that would need to be reached by every rep,” she said.

“If that target was exceeded there was a bonus that was attached to every percentage above this target, and you could be paid up to $8,000 for a product in a year, as a bonus on top of your salary.”

Listen to the full program on the Background Briefing website.


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