Vermont Pioneers Crackdown on Drug Industry Freebies to Doctors

Starting July 1, Vermont residents will be able to learn exactly how much money any doctor in that state is receiving from the drug and medical device industry. The state is also banning most gifts like free meals to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care providers.

This is an important step forward in eliminating the conflicts of interest that plague use of prescription drugs in the United States.

Vermont already has publicized non-doctor-specific data on drug industry payments intended to influence doctors. Even in a small state like Vermont, the total spent last year was $2.9 million, with most of the money targeted to doctors thought to be influential with their peers. The biggest single payment was $112,000 to a psychiatrist. And the drugs which topped the list for money paid were Strattera, a drug for attention deficit disorder, and Cymbalta, for depression and anxiety.

The new legislation was reported in an article by Natasha Singer in the New York Times.

Doctors and drug companies often deny that free meals and payments of consulting fees have any influence on doctors’ prescribing habits. The mere fact that the industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on such marketing suggests otherwise. Commendably, the Vermont Medical Society supported the new disclosure law.

Patrick Malone discusses conflicts of interest and how patients can use drugs — sensibly, skeptically and safely — in his new book: The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care — and Avoiding the Worst.

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