March 24, 2013

Drugmakers cut marketing payments to Maine doctors

Pharmaceutical firms reduce fees to physicians for speaking engagements amid wider disclosure, but increase money paid for research.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

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In 2009 and 2010, drugmakers paid Dr. Jeffrey Barkin, above, $114,225 for speaking engagements. He says he didn’t write more prescriptions for drugs made by the firms that paid him.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Here's a look at some of the most commonly known drugs associated with leading pharmaceutical companies:

Eli Lilly -- Prozac (depression), Cialis (erectile dysfunction), Cymbalta (anxiety).

Pfizer -- Celebrex (pain, inflammation), Lipitor (cholesterol), Viagra (erectile dysfunction).

Merck -- Claritin (allergies), Levitra (erectile dysfunction), Singulair (allergies).

GlaxoSmithKline -- Avandia (diabetes), Paxil (depression), Advair (asthma).


"If you do them well, you're going to keep getting asked," he said. "I've been doing (research) for 30 years."

Weiss said that he is not using the research funds to buy himself a vacation home and that almost all the money he's received from drug companies has gone to pay his 19 employees and cover stipends for patients who participate in the trials.

Critics, however, say research is part of the problem.

Barkin said clinical trials are important to the research and development of any new drug, but they are not all carried out the same way.

"While drug manufacturers have offered tremendous innovation, my concerns relate to potential manipulation of research trial data which has led to instances of abuse and fraud in marketing," he said. "Also, the bar for approval is often too low, allowing products with little benefit to enter the market."

Treat said there is pressure to push through clinical trials in order to get drugs on the market before their side effects are fully known.

Weiss, however, said he has not been pressured to approve a drug, and in fact, three-quarters of all the drugs he's tested have never reached the market.

"That's part of the reason drugs cost so much," he said.

Drug companies only started disclosing payments to doctors because of lawsuits brought by former employees who alleged the money was used for unethical, and in some case, illegal purposes.

Starting in 2009, seven drug companies begun posting information on their websites. ProPublica compiled that data into a searchable database beginning in 2010 and recently updated the list to include disclosures from 2012.

However, those lawsuits have not affected all drug companies. The ProPublica database does not quantify exactly how much money is being spent by drug companies. It estimated that the companies in the updated database represent slightly less than half of all prescriptions sold in 2011.

Next year, all drug and medical device companies are likely to be required to report such spending to a federal database, per requirements in the federal Affordable Care Act.

Powell of PhRMA said the industry will benefit from a more complete database because it will include some contextual information to help people understand the nature of the relationships between the companies and doctors. 

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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