Doctors’ prescriptions need dose of disclosure

Chicago Sun Times
Editorial

When your doctor gives you a prescription, you expect full disclosure and a little straight talk.

Full disclosure on the research behind the drug.

Straight talk from your doctor on why he is recommending this drug over another.

But far too often, that full disclosure and straight talk are deeply compromised by money and perks from your friendly global drug company, though you may never know. Recent reports reveal that drug companies quietly pay billions of dollars to the medical researchers who study new drugs and the doctors who prescribe them.

Three prominent psychiatrists at Harvard Medical School and an affiliated hospital recently were caught greatly underreporting the amount of money that drug companies have put in their pockets over the years. Two of the researchers were paid $1.6 million each in consulting fees from drug companies between 2000 to 2007, while the third was paid more than $1 million — much of it never reported, as required, and revealed only after a congressional inquiry.

What’s particularly unsettling is that the researchers specialize in children with psychiatric problems, and they have been effective boosters of using strong antipsychotic drugs for treatment.

As for the doctors who do the prescribing, a survey published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that more than a third of the doctors had been reimbursed by drug and medical device companies for professional meetings or continuing education, and more than 25 percent got money for consulting, giving speeches or enrolling patients in medical trials.

A Senate bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley and Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, offers a reasonable antidote. It would require big drug and medical device companies to report payments to doctors that exceed $500 a year, information that would be posted online.

What a fine idea.

Given how much money drug companies throw around, a second opinion can’t hurt.

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