Drug sales reps skip the side effects – D’oh!

(Reuters)An article in Globe and Mail, Wed 10 Apr, reporting the results of a survey of Doctors in three countries including Canada that reveals just how much drug company reps skip out information about side effects when telling your doctor about their magical new drugs – even when eth drugs come withthe most severe kind of warnings.

A few days ago we brought you a piece about magical beliefs held by parents and doctors in the magical power of diagnoses and medicines for dealing withthe kind of distress that so many young people now face.

Well, here’s a bit more detail – this time about how doctors hold magical belief in the drug faeries who visit them regularly to shower them trinkets so they will prescribe the new drugs that will magically solve any problem that their patients may complain of. 

Now, Docs are smart people but some are just not acting very smart. In the  US there is one drug company rep for every fifteen doctors [it’s likely similar in Canada but the data is harder to uncover.]  Doctors are, and have been for years]  the target of the most expensive and most sophisticated advertising campaign in history – slightly beating 10 to 15yr olds. 

Of course, drug reps are required to tell, but in an industry that regards multi-billion dolar fines for not telling the truth as an acceptable  cost of doing business, whatcha-gonna-do? 

Yet when drug reps promote their new product and do not mention the  side effects docs magically lose the ability to ask about them. What is that about? In his book Pharmageddon, David Healy calls this the double Stockholm Syndrome effect – patients trust Doctors, Doctors trust drug reps. Whilst it is understandable, we do think there must be a lot of fairy dust going round –  or a lot of something.

The message is simple – don’t expect your doc to tell you about side effects of any medication they suggest you take : because they likely don’t know.

Do yourself a favour: find out for yourself and learn more about the medications you take. 

Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

SHERYL UBELACKER Wednesday, Apr. 10 2013

Drug sales reps often skip the side effects, doctor survey finds

Most family doctors say they receive little or no information about harmful effects of medications when visited by drug company sales representatives promoting their products, a survey of Canadian, U.S. and French physicians has found.

The study, which involved 255 doctors in Montreal, Vancouver, Sacramento and Toulouse, France, shows that sales reps failed to provide any information about common or serious side effects and the type of patients who should not use the medicine in 59 per cent of promotions.

In Vancouver and Montreal, no potential harms were mentioned for 66 per cent of promoted medicines, says the study published online Wednesday in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“Laws in all three countries require sales representatives to provide information on harm as well as benefits,” said principal researcher Barbara Mintzes of the University of British Columbia. “But no one is monitoring these visits and there are next to no sanctions for misleading or inaccurate promotion.”

Serious risks were mentioned in only 6 per cent of the promotions, even though 57 per cent of the medications involved in these visits came with U.S. Food and Drug Administration “black box” or Health Canada boxed warnings – the strongest warnings issued in both countries.

Physicians in Toulouse were more likely to be told of a harmful effect by sales reps, compared to doctors in Canada and the United States, possibly reflecting stricter regulatory standards for promotion of medicines in France, researchers said.

“We are very concerned that doctors and patients are left in the dark and patient safety may be compromised,” said Mintzes, an assistant professor at UBC’s school of population and public health.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited family doctors to participate using random samples from lists of primary-care physicians in the four cities.

Doctors were asked to fill out a questionnaire about the information provided for promoted medications following each visit from a pharmaceutical sales rep. In all, they provided information on almost 1,700 drug promotions between May 2009 and June 2010.

Sales representatives regularly visit doctors’ offices to promote medicines by providing information, free samples and in some cases food and invitations to events. The study focused on how often information was provided about drug safety.

Despite the lack of information on potential adverse effects, many of the surveyed doctors said they were likely to start prescribing these drugs, consistent with previous research that shows prescribing behaviour is influenced by pharmaceutical companies’ promotion.

“We were surprised that most of the time they were somewhat or very likely to increase their prescribing or to start prescribing [a promoted drug],” Mintzes said. “The problem is this is a source of information that is often used, consciously or not, to inform prescribing decisions. There’s a serious problem in terms of ensuring that doctors are getting adequate safety information as a background to prescribing decisions.”

Dr. Tom Perry, an internal medicine and clinical pharmacology specialist at the UBC Hospital in Vancouver, expressed concern about the findings.

“Doctors learn relatively little about drugs in medical school and much of their exposure to pharmacology after graduation may be in the form of advertising,” said Perry, who was not involved in the study. “If they are unaware of the potential harms from drugs they prescribe, patients inevitably suffer the consequences.”

original article at


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2 Responses to Drug sales reps skip the side effects – D’oh!

  1. I find this extremely disturbing, and don’t know how these drugs reps, and doctors, can sleep at night. So many people are hurt by these drugs, and all they care about is the bottom line………money.


    • Hi Janet
      I’m not sure who “they” are and I really don’t think its true that most Doctors do only care about the “bottom line” as you call it, but it is astonishing how little some seem to know and even more astonishing how Doctoring proffession takes next to no responsibility.

      A simple check you can make is take a look around your doctor’s office at the drug company names on stationery, pens, posters etc- if you see a lot then make up your own mind about what that means. If you see none then there’s a better chance they have a higher regard for your interests.

      What I learned is that in the end the person most responsible for knowing about what I put in my body is me…
      I learned to not take a prescription without asking what the drug will do , how it works and the side effects. When I take it to the pharmacist I ask the same questions – its worth building a good relationship with your pharmacist, they likely will know.

      In that process I’ve found that Doctors I meet appreciate me taking an interest rather than have me blindly trusting them to fix me.

      We can blame others or we can open our eyes and become confident in our own abilities…
      It is not an easy path but it is the one trodden by every person I know who has recovered.


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