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A Good Word for Pharma Reps

A study that came out on May 6, 2010 says that the numbers of physicians “open” to visiting pharmaceutical reps dropped from 71% to 58%.  This has to be due, at least in part, to the relentless negative publicity that big pharma gets for its practice of sending out armies of sales reps to inform doctors about certain medications and to encourage them to prescribe them.   I have seen this trend in effect for the mental health field, among psychiatrists, mental health nurse practitioners and mental health PAs.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’d like to put in a good word for big pharma and all those big, beautiful, and disproportionately blonde pharmaceutical reps.

They come bearing gifts!  Sure, some of those gifts are for the physicians but the days of extravagant    gifting seem to be over.   Now a physician will be lucky to receive a free lunch to compensate for their time in listening to the reps’ pitches.  The new rules about gifting are so strict that nary a coffee mug is changing hands in most cases.

That’s not what I’m talking about.  The gifts from pharma reps that interest me are the ones for the patients!  Samples, samples, samples.  And more samples.  Samples saving lower income patients a lot of money.   Samples helping mental health patients, at least, live better lives.

Let’s leave aside society’s interest for a moment.  I understand the argument that physician incentives may encourage patients to ask for particular brand name drugs for which there may be cheaper generic versions.  I understand the argument that physician incentives may increase total physician prescribing for a more expensive drug.  But really, let’s trust our physicians a little more – give them some credit.  Our physicians – at least the psychiatrists I know in the mental health field – are fully trained, competent professionals.   Some of they are even capable of understanding the potential coercive effect of a pharm visit and can take that into account while still making their best clinical judgments on behalf of their patients. These enlightened care givers, if they accept samples from these pharmaceutical Santa Clauses, can give the medications that they think will be most helpful free to deserving clients.

Free.  What a lovely word when coupled with the phrase, mental health care, psychiatry or psychology!  Getting free samples is the difference between effective treatment and no treatment at all for quite a number of people.   I think we should encourage this philanthropy on the part of big pharma.  Regardless of their actual motive in being so generous, real people are benefiting from their largess.  And isn’t that really the point?

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