In 2013, Propublica published an incredible story revealing how pharma giants laundered bribes to doctors in exchange for commitments to prescribe their expensive, proprietary and often dangerous products.
Six years later, the practice is worse than ever: "More than 2,500 physicians have received at least half a million dollars apiece from drugmakers and medical device companies in the past five years alone, a new ProPublica analysis of payment data shows. And that doesn’t include money for research or royalties from inventions. More than 700 of those doctors received at least $1 million."
Pharma's annual doctor-bribing spend is $2.1-$2.2b, distributed among about 600,000 docs out of the USA's 1.1m doctors every year. A spokesvillain for PHRMA, the pharmaceutical industry's lobbying arm, says that this proves that it's all OK, because if it was bad, PHRMA's members would have done less of it over time.
Of the top 20 drugs with the most annual spending on doctors from 2014 to 2018, six made the list in each of the years: Invokana to treat type 2 diabetes, the blood thinners Xarelto and Eliquis, the antipsychotic Latuda, the immunosuppressive drug Humira and the multiple sclerosis drug Aubagio. Another three drugs were on the list for four years: Victoza to treat type 2 diabetes, psoriasis treatment Otezla and the cholesterol-lowering drug Repatha. (Research funding and royalties are not included.)
Xarelto topped the list in spending for four years, totaling more than $123 million in payments from 2014 to 2018. In March, its makers, Johnson & Johnson and Bayer AG, agreed to pay $775 million to settle about 25,000 lawsuits claiming that the companies had failed to warn patients that Xarelto could cause fatal bleeding.
In statements, J&J and Bayer have said that the allegations lacked merit and that Xarelto is safe and effective. They noted that six cases that went to trial were decided in their favor.
We Found Over 700 Doctors Who Were Paid More Than a Million Dollars by Drug and Medical Device Companies [Charles Ornstein,Tracy Weber,Ryann Grochowski Jones/Propublica]