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03-03-2013 | Article

Washington DC draws a concentration of drug marketing dollars


DOH report

medwireNews: Drug companies spent $ 84 million in 2011 on marketing in the nation's capitol, Washington DC, of which $ 19 million (23%) was for "gifts" - such as grants, speaker's fees, and food - for physicians, hospitals, and other types of healthcare providers. Of note were 12 doctors who received more than $ 100,000 in gifts, including payments for consulting work.

"It is an astonishing amount of money that is spent in DC," Susan Wood, lead researcher of the report and associate professor at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), told medwireNews. "It's a lot more per physician than any other part of the country as far as we can tell."

The SPHHS report, which was commissioned by Washington DC's Department of Health (DOH), was based on data that were acquired according to the city's unique AccessRX Act. This 2004 law requires that pharmaceutical companies that advertize and market in the district report expenditures directly to the city government's DOH where it is kept confidential - that is, until the federally mandated Sunshine Act releases names in 2014.

Wood pointed out that Washington DC is "definitely an interesting place" for marketers from the health industry perspective since well known medical centers, medical schools, and training physicians are located there, in addition to national organizations that represent various health professionals, patients, and diseases.

While the report did not identify specific drugs, how they were marketed, or to whom, the study still raises questions about the impact that heavily marketed drugs have on appropriate prescribing practices, according to Wood.

"What we do know is that from the money perspective, companies find it beneficial to provide more gifts to psychiatrists who accept Medicaid, for example, than psychiatrists who don't," Wood explained. "That's as far as we can take it [but] it raises the question as to why and what impact that might have on the Medicaid population."

Of the $ 19 million in gifts, $ 9.2 million went to individuals, such as nurses and pharmacists - with the largest chunk of 82% going to doctors.

"Some doctors - usually thought leaders - get large speaking or consultancy fees for influencing other people's practices," Wood said. "Others get smaller gifts of money or food… to help maintain or increase prescribing practices by maintaining relationships."

Disease organizations that receive money, Wood said, view the payments as grants or educational work rather than marketing dollars. "But it must be coming out of the marketing budget of companies," she said.

By Peter Sergo, medwireNews Reporter