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The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), which represents the world’s largest drug makers, updated on January 1 its code of ethics for the first time in a decade. The revised code bars drug manufacturers that are members of the federation from lavishing physicians with cash, extravagant all-expenses paid trips, and expensive gifts. Such practices have been common in the industry and are designed to influence physicians’ prescribing decisions. Have you ever had a physician switch your prescription from a perfectly safe and effective drug to a new and relatively untested drug? The LA Times quoted the director general of the federation who gave the following reasons for the ethics update:

What we’re trying to do is prevent as many of the activities as possible that have not helped the reputation of the industry. We need to make sure the product is the best product for the patient and it’s not influenced by gifts and it’s not influenced by hospitality or vacations

. The Times reported that

large pharmaceutical companies spend about one-third of their massive revenues on sales and marketing, much of it aimed at doctors.

The revised ethics code limits gifts to those that are of modest value and are work-related. On October 2, 2005, the federation suspended Merck’s British division for violating its ethics policy in connection with services offered to physicians prescribing Merck’s heart drug, Cozaar. The federation’s new approach, which is due in large part to critical reports of unethical drug practices published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is encouraging. I have personally spoken with doctors who admitted the undue influence of slick drug representatives over the prescribing practices in the medical community. Hopefully, the prescriptions drugs that we are taking will no longer be influenced by all expenses paid golf trips to the Bahamas.
Federation members include GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Eli Lilly & Co., AstraZeneca, Merck, and Novartis. Please contact us if you or a loved one has been injured by a defective drug.

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