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Secrecy Surrounds Drug Industry's Gifts to Docs

Finding information on these payments is tough, even in states that mandate disclosure, experts say

TUESDAY, March 20, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Laws in two states -- Minnesota and Vermont -- that require public disclosure of drug company gifts to doctors still don't offer the public easy access to the information, a new study finds.

Even when the information is accessed, it is often of limited quality, researchers noted in a report in March 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Individuals who want to know how much drug company money their doctor is accepting and from whom will have a difficult time finding the information, because the state disclosure laws are so riddled with holes and inconsistencies," study co-author Dr. Peter Lurie said in a prepared statement. Lurie is deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

In the study, Dr. Joseph S. Ross of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, and colleagues analyzed 2002-2004 data from Minnesota and Vermont. Drug company payments to doctors included cash, gift certificates, meals, conference fees and textbooks.

"In Vermont, 61 percent of payments were not released to the public, because pharmaceutical companies designated them as trade secrets, and 75 percent of publicly disclosed payments were missing information necessary to identify the recipient," the study authors wrote. "In Minnesota, 25 percent of companies reported in each of the three years."

The American Medical Association recommends that gifts to doctors should benefit patients and not exceed $100 in value. The recommendation is similar to those of other medical organizations, as well as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, according to background information in the study.

But the researchers found that drug companies made many payments of $100 or more to doctors in the two states.

"In Vermont, among 12,227 payments totaling $2.18 million publicly disclosed, there were 2,416 payments of $100 or more to physicians," the authors wrote. "In Minnesota, among 6,946 payments totaling $30.96 million publicly disclosed, there were 6,238 payments of $100 or more to physicians."

The disclosure laws in these two states don't do enough to reveal the true pattern of payments from drug companies to doctors, the authors concluded. "States that enact public disclosure laws in the future should learn from these mistakes and require a more consistent and easily understandable system to report these kinds of payments," Lurie said.

More information

Find out more about the AMA's stance on drug company gifts to doctors at their Web site.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, March 19, 2007; Public Citizen, news release, March 20, 2007
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