There is a governmental website where you’re free to search how much money pharmaceutical companies are giving to doctors in the US.
Simply by searching a practitioner’s name, it will break down which companies have paid them and the nature of the payments, such as whether it was a consulting fee, research fee, travel and lodging expenses, grants, food and beverage, etc. You can access the Open Payments Data website by clicking here.
You can also search for companies to see how much they have dished out to doctors. For example, you can see that Purdue Pharma – the manufacturer of OxyContin – have spent a total of $10,977,788 in payments. Nearly 60 percent of the payments were spent on “compensation for services other than consulting, including serving as faculty or as a speaker at a venue other than a continuing education program.”
Before you use the database, there are a few things you should understand
Primarily, just because your doctor has received money from a pharmaceutical company, it doesn’t mean they’re stooges from some evil pharmaceutical corporate giant. The majority of the money is likely to be completely innocent and simply a symptom of the way drugs are traded. To buy and sell drugs, just like any product, companies send sales representatives to potential buyers, in this case doctors.
Sales representatives might hold conferences or meet for lunch with doctors (which comes under food and beverage) to tell them about new drug developments. They also regularly pay doctors for consultations to help them develop their drugs using their frontline expertise or medical knowledge.
The fear for some people is that big pharma has “bought off” doctors into buying large amounts of a certain drug. This could hypothetically lead to the doctor being pressured to prescribe that certain drug, regardless of whether it is medically and scientifically the best option.
However, laws are in place to protect you from that. To stop bribes from occurring, it is illegal for companies to give “gifts of substantial value.” The gifts are often little more than cheap ballpoint pens and mouse mats. Additionally, a fairly common practice is for drug sales teams to have studied life sciences at a college degree level, so in theory they have a basic understanding of the science behind the drugs they are selling.
Finally, this is all in the interest of transparency and open information. It isn’t an invitation to get your pitchfork and go on a witch hunt. If you’re struck by anything you find, then we can only suggest that you do some further research for yourself and make an educated decision when you consult your doctor.