Drug Companies Spend Big in D.C., Report Shows

The companies doled out nearly $84 million in 2011 to market their products in the District, according to a report by Associate Professor Susan Wood.

drug company marketing health medicine
March 07, 2013

Drug companies spent nearly $84 million to market their products in D.C. in 2011, including $19 million for gifts to physicians, hospitals and other health care providers, shows a new report by researchers at the George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.

“There is nothing inherently wrong with such gifts,” said Susan F. Wood, the study’s lead researcher and an associate professor of health policy and environmental and occupational health at SPHHS. “However, this report draws attention to the amount being spent on marketing drugs and raises questions about whether some heavily marketed drugs may be prescribed more extensively than is appropriate.”

While the $83.7 million that companies spent on advertising and gifts in 2011 is slightly less than 2010, it’s still an “astonishing amount,” Dr. Wood said. Hospitals and clinics got $9.7 million of that, and individuals took in $9.2 million. What’s more, the report shows that in some cases large amounts of money funnel to a small number of physicians. For example, 12 physicians in the District received gifts—grants, speaker’s fees, consulting payments and food, such as a dinner during a sales pitch—totaling more than $100,000 each in 2011.

The report also found 23 out of 158 drug companies spent more than $1 million each.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Of the 3,400 District physicians who received at least one food gift, 444 received 10 or more meals and 33 received 52 or more over the course of the year, suggesting some dine with drug company representatives as often as weekly.
  • The top 10 professional organizations in D.C., which represent health professionals in a certain specialty or demographic group, received $3.5 million. Half of the gifts were valued at $20,000 or more.
  • The top 10 disease-specific organizations in D.C. received $2.1 million in gifts. Because these organizations advise patients, the report said, gifts could sway them to recommend certain drugs.

The report was commissioned by the District’s Department of Health as part of the AccessRx Act that requires drug companies to file reports of their marketing activities and mandates that these reports be analyzed to determine the effect of drug marketing on health care services. It doesn’t highlight certain drugs nor does it name doctors or providers.

However, under the Affordable Care Act, drug companies will begin to publicly report gifts in September 2014, allowing patients to have access to information about the relationship between the companies and their health care providers.

Dr. Wood and her colleagues have researched drug companies previously, finding in a recent report that companies making antipsychotic drugs gave a disproportionate amount of gifts and payments to District psychiatrists who treat Medicaid patients. That may have led to inappropriate prescriptions for those patients—and children in particular, according to D.C. Council Member David Catania, who held a hearing on the issue last November.