Saturday, June 30, 2007

America's Hottest Drug Dealers

On the radio today, Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau was being interviewed. She was a drug rep for Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson until her conscience got the better of her. Her qualifications for pushing drugs came down to being friendly and hot looking. She was a political science graduate of University of Wisconsin at Madison, and used that degree to sell cell phones for one year, until a recruiter for a pharmaceutical company looked her over and said she would be perfect. She had avoided all science courses that she could in school, so having her convince doctors to prescribe drugs that can have lethal side effects may not be the best thing in patient's interests.

Ms. Slattery-Moschkau related several horror stories of how she saw herself selling her soul, but self justifying. Almost every time she got close to quitting, she would earn a raise, or a free trip to Hawaii. She was given a brand new company car every year. She worked in the industry for ten years starting at the age of twenty-three. Picture that for a moment. A young woman who hates science is pushing toxic substances to doctors by flirting, feeding, and giving gifts to doctors using her attractiveness as a marketing tool. Once Slattery-Moschkau found her soul, she made a movie about the experience called Side Effects

During this interview she related how drugs like Vioxx were pushed by drug representatives like herself who didn't reveal any of the negative side effects to the doctors. The reps did show up with perfect make-up on which is nearly as important.

One thing the drug companies are doing now is going directly to college cheerleading squads and recruiting not bothering to ask what the young women are majoring in, other than being perky and hot. It works.

Carl Elliot has an article in The Atlantic exposing this practice, with interviews with people who have finally left the business. It is a real eye opener. The pharmaceutical reps get paid these large salaries because they are effective. Doctors convinced themselves they are not selling out, but their prescription numbers are tracked. Ten minutes alone with a doctor can create thousands of dollars worth of sales. So, they get corrupted with sexuality, food, trinkets.

From 1996 to 2001 the pharmaceutical sales force in America doubled, to a total of 90,000 reps. One reason is simple: good reps move product. Detailing is expensive, but almost all practicing doctors see reps at least occasionally, and many doctors say they find reps useful. One study found that for drugs introduced after 1997 with revenues exceeding $200 million a year, the average return for each dollar spent on detailing was $10.29.

We end up paying for this through higher insurance rates, dangerous drugs being overprescribed, and the loss of integrity in the medical profession.

If the AMA won't step up and ban the practice, congress should. Unfortunately, they too are busy being bought by the pharmaceutical companies. Like doctors, they should say no to the sexy young thing in an italian dress, or the ruggedly handsome guy who you always wanted to have as a beer drinking buddy.