The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Do you really want to take that pill?

Jul 5, 2004

Are we really getting a prescription we need or is the doctor prescribing it because he or she was paid to do so? Could we get well with a lower-cost generic drug? How can you tell?

Pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough has been giving doctors more than $1,000 for each patient with liver disease for whom the doctor prescribed the very expensive treatment called Intron A. The manufacturer of Intron A is, of course, Schering-Plough. And if a doctor wrote prescriptions for a competing drug, he or she no longer received checks from Schering-Plough.

Supposedly doctors police themselves to prevent such bribes. Fifteen years ago, the American Medical Association adopted a guideline that doctors should not accept any gift worth more than $100. But many doctors apparently didn't consider the money they received from the drug companies as gifts. They aren't – they're bribes!

In the last three years, drug company Pfizer agreed to pay a 430 million dollar fine, Astra-Zeneca paid a 355 million dollar fine and TAP Pharmaceuticals paid an 875 million dollar fine to settle criminal charges for paying physicians to use their drugs. Schering-Plough set aside 500 million dollars for legal "problems" over the last two years – just an expense of doing business!

The huge sums paid by drug companies to settle criminal charges show just how profitable the bribery has been for the drug companies. A few hundred million in fines is apparently nothing when compared to their multi-billion dollar sales when the doctors are prescribing their products.