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Doctors Push Drugs for Dollars

Physicians are being paid by drug companies to promote brand-name prescriptions. Is yours?

A recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit against Novartis, the nation’s sixth-largest drug maker by sales, alleges that many speakers were chosen “on their prescription potential rather than their true credentials.”

Speakers were used and paid as long as they kept their prescription levels up, even though “several speakers had difficulty with English,” according to the amended complaint filed this year in federal court in Philadelphia.

Some physicians were paid for speaking to one another, the lawsuit alleged. Several family practice doctors in Peoria, Ill., “had two programs every week at the same restaurant with the same group of physicians as the audience attendees.”

In September, Novartis agreed to pay the government $422.5 million to resolve civil and criminal allegations in this case and others. The company has said it fixed its practices and now complies with government rules.

Roseman, who has been a pharma speaker for about a decade, acknowledged that his expertise comes by way of the training provided by the companies that pay him. But he says that makes him the best prepared to speak about their products, which he prescribes for his own patients. Asked about Roseman’s credentials, a Glaxo spokeswoman said he is an “appropriate” speaker.

Getting paid to speak “doesn’t mean that your views have necessarily been tainted,” he said.

Plus pharma needs talent, Roseman said. Top-tier universities such as Harvard have begun banning their staffs from accepting pharma money for speaking, he said. “It irritates me that the debate over bias comes down to a litmus test of money,” Roseman said. “The amount of knowledge that I have is in some regards to be valued.”

ProPublica Director of Research Lisa Schwartz and researcher Nicholas Kusnetz contributed to this report.

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