Drug Companies Paying Shady Doctors For Prescription Drug Endorsements

Pharmaceutical companies are paying doctors with questionable records millions of dollars to endorse their drugs, Propublica reports.

According to a joint investigative report from ProPublica, NPR, PBS's "Nightly Business Report," the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and Consumer Reports, drug companies have sought and received endorsements from doctors with a history of misconduct. The infractions include everything from sex with patients, to poor care, and inappropriate prescriptions.

According to the report, most drug companies do not look at state web sites that list discipline against physicians, but instead "rely on self-reporting and checks of federal databases."

In addition to misconduct, 45 of the doctors who earn more than $100,000 by hawking drug companies' products lack board certification in any specialty, "suggesting they had not completed advanced training and passed a comprehensive exam.

But shady and uncertified doctors are just part of the story. The report also calls into question the impact that drug company payments might have on doctors when they prescribe medications. Several lawsuits have accused drug companies of paying doctors to prescribe certain drugs.

In a recent New York Times story about those lawsuits, specifically ones focusing on anti-psychotic drugs, one doctor explained what drug companies paid him to do:

Dr. Stefan P. Kruszewski, a Harvard-educated psychiatrist who once worked as a paid speaker for several drug makers, became a government informant and now consults for plaintiffs suing drug companies. Earlier in his career, he spoke at events for Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson as an advocate of antipsychotics. He said one company offered him incentives of $1,000 or more every time he talked to an individual doctor about one of its drugs.

"When I started speaking for companies in the late 1980s and early '90s, I was allowed to say what I thought I should say consistent with the science," he recalls. "Then it got to the point where I was no longer allowed to do that. I was given slides and told, 'We'll give you a thousand dollars if you say this for a half-hour.' And I said: 'I can't say that. It isn't true.' "

Also troubling is the lack of transparency. The report's findings are based on financial disclosures of just seven drug companies who, in some cases, were required to post the payments because of lawsuits or settlements. There are more than 70 other companies that have not posted information.

A database listing doctors who have received payments disclosed by those seven companies is included in the report.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal criminal investigators are probing possible bribes by drug companies to "boost sales and speed approvals" in foreign countries.