2014 News

PharmedOut In the News - 2014

December 2014

  • December 8: PharmedOut was mentioned in The New York Times article "Paid to Promote Eye Drug, and Prescribing It Widely". The story focused on the controversy surrounding Lucentis versus Avastin, two near-identical drugs made by Genentech and used to treat the same eye disease, except that the former is forty times more expensive than the latter. As the article reveals, "a new federal database shows that many of the doctors who were the top billers for Lucentis were also among the highest-paid consultants for Genentech, earning thousands of dollars to help promote the drug." How could medical professionals do such a thing? As Dr. Fugh-Berman told the Times, "that’s why a sandwich is so effective — no one wants to feel like they were being bought off for $5 ... That’s why they convince themselves that the drug is better." The Times article was picked up by many other outlets, and was included in the American Medical Association's Morning Rounds briefing.

November 2014

  • November 22: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in part 2 of the San Jose Mercury News feature on psychiatric drugs and foster kids. “People are more receptive to messages of any kind when they’re eating," she said about drug company-sponsored lunches and speaker dinners. "Food is the great lubricant.”
  • November 13: Fugh-Berman discussed physician phone app Epocrates in the Vox article "The insidious new ways Big Pharma is manipulating your doctors' drug choices". She said, "few physicians know that every time they look something up on Epocrates, information gets sent back to a pharma vendor ... Affecting information flow is pharma's best covert strategy ... This means that health-care providers don't know about non-pharmacologic therapies, doctors over-treat, and that they are much better versed on the benefits of drugs than they are on the harms."

October 2014

  • Footage of FDA's female sexual dysfunction workshop in October, including the PharmedOut testimony that we covered last month, is now available online.
  • October 27 and 28: PharmedOut Project Manager Alessandra Hirsch and volunteer staffperson Rebecca Holliman testified at the FDA's Patient-Focused Drug Development Meeting on Female Sexual Dysfunction. They shared their concerns about Sprout Pharmaceuticals' "Even The Score" campaign for flibanserin from a young woman's perspective. They spoke about the many factors that affect libido, and how flibanserin "inherently implies that a woman who isn’t in the mood has something clinically wrong with her," Hirsch said, and asked, "do I lose the right to say no because there is a pill to 'fix me'?" Holliman noted that "a pill or device in a market with no infrastructure to educate women about the non-medical components of arousal is dangerously open to abuse."
  • October 23: Flibaserin's "Even The Score" campaign struck again with its "The Score is 26-0" flyer, supposedly describing the number of sexual dysfunction drugs approved for men versus women. As we've discussed, no drugs are actually approved to treat low libido in men or women, so we responded with another fact sheet called "The Score is 0-0". On October 23, PharmaGuy John Mack linked to PharmedOut's fact sheet in his flibanserin coverage on Pharma Marketing Blog.
  • October 20: The WebMD article "Why Aren’t There Sex Drugs for Women?" linked to PharmedOut's "Don't Need Drugs To Score" fact sheet from last month.
  • October 16: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted at length in the Washington Business Journal article "MedStar hospitals received more than $1 million from drug companies in 2013". She discussed how industry influences physician education through conferences and grand rounds, and "it ends up distorting the medical information that's out there," Fugh-Berman said. "Doctors don't realize how restricted the information stream is."
  • October 14: Margaret A. Winker, MD, Senior Research Editor for PLOS Medicine, reflected on the 2010 Policy Forum by Adriane Fugh-Berman that explored the ghostwriting behind menopausal hormone therapy (HT). She wrote, "[Dr. Fugh-Berman's] revelations of Wyeth’s promotion of HT, culled from a collection of documents obtained from litigation brought by more than 14,000 plaintiffs who developed breast cancer while taking Prempro and made public when PLOS Medicine and the New York Times intervened in the litigation, were remarkable for their breadth and impact, shocking even the most cynical reader."
  • October 6: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in Review of Ophthalmology's article "Can Continuing Medical Education Be Saved?", regarding subtle marketing in industry-funded Continued Medical Education (CME). "'Can doctors pick up on overt advertising of a drug? Sure. But you’re never going to see overt advertising in a CME,' she says. For example, CME may suddenly be inundated with programs about a newly discovered system, such as the endocannabinoid system. 'Well, of course that was meant to prepare the market, for—surprise—an endocannabinoid drug.'"

September 2014

  • September 29: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in the Medscape Medical News article "Open Payments Web Site Debuts, Ready or Not". The website, which allows patients to look up payments to their doctors from drug and device companies, became public in late September. Although many physicians, and the American Medical Association, maintain that doctor-industry relationships benefit patients and don't influence prescribing choices, Dr. Fugh-Berman said "physicians can be bought, and those who don't think that they can aren't paying attention to the literature ... and it's not the specific amount of money, it's the relationship. If this didn't work, they wouldn't be doing it."
  • September 17: Dr. Fugh-Berman testified at the FDA's hearing on testosterone therapy and cardiovascular risks. As many of you know, "Low-T" treatments were in the news earlier this year as a growing number of men had heart attacks while using the drug. In response, the FDA Advisory Committee convened to determine future labeling requirements on testosterone products. Dr. Fugh-Berman spoke to the Committee about the overuse of testosterone in normally aging men. She called this "a public health concern" and said "the current labeled indication of testosterone therapy is so broad and vague that any man with a single low testosterone level [when tested] can be diagnosed with hypogonadism. Testosterone levels can vary hourly, daily, weekly, and seasonally. Levels are affected by exercise, sexual activity, handling a gun, handling a baby, marriage, divorce, and the performance of one’s favorite sports team. Given that the diagnostics are questionable, and the benefits are unconvincing, are any life-threatening risks of testosterone worth taking?" We were pleased that at the end of the meeting, the Advisory Committee voted to change the label on testosterone in order to limit its use!

August 2014

  • Dr. Fugh-Berman appears in a San Jose Mercury News documentary on psychotropic prescribing in foster care, where the drugs are used to sedate traumatized kids. The documentary is the fifth part of Mercury News's "Drugging Our Kids" series; watch the 40-minute documentary and view the rest of the coverage here.

June 2014

  • June 14: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in this New York Times article on Botox, Allergan's "multipurpose blockbuster" and "marquee" drug. Allergan began "a kind of frequent-buyer program" offering rebates to doctors, but “incentivizing physicians to use a paralytic drug for a cosmetic condition is not advancing patient care," said Dr. Fugh-Berman.
  • June 10: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in ChemistryWorld's story on recent off-label marketing settlements with Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. She explained some of the ways pharmaceutical companies use off-label marketing, and said that because it is profitable, fines are simply incorporated "into the cost of doing business."
  • June 2: Dr. Fugh-Berman was interviewed for Al Jazeera, again regarding flibanserin (the "female Viagra") and whether FDA's refusal to approve it was due to gender bias toward women.

May 2014

  • On May 22nd and 23rd, Dr. Fugh-Berman addressed the CME committee at the Roger Williams Medical Center and presented Grand Rounds at both Roger Williams and Hasbro Children's Hospital/Department of Pediatrics at Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, RI.
  • May 21: Dr. Fugh-Berman was interviewed for Nightline's story, "Fight Over 'Little Pink Pill' Raises Sexism Questions". She said that the FDA's rejection of flibanserin (also known as "female Viagra") is due to the product's unproven benefits for a questionable condition, not gender bias.
  • May 19: Dr. Fugh-Berman spoke on an American Society for Men's Health panel at the American Urological Association's annual conference. The topic was cardiovascular risks of testosterone therapy, and Dr. Fugh-Berman spoke alongside Bill Finkle PhD, who authored a testosterone study that identified cardiovascular risks, and Abraham Morgentaler MD, who has called for a retraction of a JAMA study that found similar results. Drugwatch covered some of the debate arguments here.

April 2014

  • April 24: PharmedOut recruited physicians and researchers to sign one of several letters to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, asking the FDA not to approve Roche's Cobas HPV test as an alternative to a Pap smear for cervical cancer screening. The FDA approved the test, and the letters were mentioned in the coverage by the New York Times and AP.
  • April 16: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in this NPR story on a recent study showing that when dermatologists give patients free samples, they end up prescribing medication more than twice as expensive as prescriptions in sample-free offices. "When a doctor gives a sample to a patient, it's a very strong endorsement of a drug," Dr. Fugh-Berman said, and it would look "inconsistent" if they later prescribed a different generic drug.
  • April 11: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in The Boston Herald stating that the campaign to retract a recent JAMA study linking testosterone drugs to heart attacks, stroke and death "smells like industry influence."
  • April 6: Dr. Fugh-Berman was quoted in Paul Thacker's Slate article "How to Handle FDA Rejection" about the misperception that the FDA has not approved Flibanserin (a "female Viagra" drug) due to sexism.

March 2014

  • We contributed to a report led by Dr. Susan Wood at the George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health, analyzing the most recent D.C. pharmaceutical marketing data. The report is now available on the D.C. Department of Health website, and a summary of our findings can be found in this press release and in Washington Business Journal (March 14).
  • March 6: PharmedOut wrapped up our "What Are Your Top 20 Drugs?" survey this month with over 500 responses, and we have begun analyzing the results. A story on the concept was written up by Kate Aubusson for Australian Doctor.

February 2014

January 2014

  • January 8: Dr. Fugh-Berman commented on how our health records are being used for individualized marketing for Reuters in "Are drug companies using your health records to sell you stuff?" : "There is a slippery slope when it comes to de-identified data and electronic health records, says Adriane Fugh-Berman, a doctor who is director of PharmedOut, a research and education project at Georgetown University Medical Center. The digital systems can email reminders to patients to refill medications or encourage them to get vaccines. It's not always clear who is paying for those messages and if the content is from the doctor or some kind of advertorial." "It's extremely misleading to patients," Fugh-Berman says.