Drug Reps Descend On Doctors Like A Plague Of Pen And Coffee Mug Bearing Locusts

Tomorrow, CNBC will be airing a story on the program Business Nation about the swarms of drug reps who buzz around your doctor’s office trying to convince her to give you Lipitor or Requip or whatever.

Understanding that your doctor is under tremendous pressure to prescribe newer, costlier drugs will help you make an informed decision about what drugs are “right for you,” as the TV ads say. It might actually be the newest, costliest drug, but if you talk with your doctor about other, cheaper options, you might find that there’s another drug that will work just as well. Or not. In any case, it’s best to know your options and be able to ask informed questions about your health.

You can learn about some cheaper, often equally effective older drugs by visiting Consumer Reports’ Best Buy Drugs website.

Remember, drug companies don’t advertise drugs because they’re the best ones they have. They advertise them because they’re still holding the patent. CNBC’s program will air Nov. 7th at 9pm and 12am E.



Edit Your Comment

  1. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    I can say with confidence that my doctor’s prescribe me generic versions of drugs easily 80% of the time.
    The other 20% are based on penicilin allergies.

  2. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    @Cassifras: so in other words, I’m not that worried.

  3. Dead Wrestlers Society says:

    Locusts is right. They always seem to be in the waiting room whenever I go to a doctor’s office.

  4. Finder says:

    People are far too over-medicated today. This practice should be stopped in addition to banning pharmaceutical companies from advertising on TV.

  5. JKinNYC says:

    I have a friend who was a drug rep, and she did it for a couple years and then, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, she quit because she felt so dirty doing it. The doctors are in general, completely complicit in the game of it, going as far as to pre-order lunch or breakfast from the reps in advance, letting them know what bribes to bring.

  6. dextrone says:

    @Cassifras: Right, if you find a good knowledgeable doctor, you’re fine. If not, you should consider switching, (only if you explained your problems to the doctor that is).

    Did you know that if a doctor accepts a gift, it counts as a “recommendation” for that drug? (that’s why it shows it like that on those ads)

  7. mandarin says:

    Thats marketing for you… Dirty…
    Why do you think I changed careers?

  8. axiomatic says:

    My sister in-law is one of these locusts. It takes a specific kind of person (attractive silver tongued busy body types) to do this job. She does it well but I’m glad I’m married to her sister and not her.

  9. Saboth says:

    Heh yup, too bad there is no money in alternative medicines, or else we’d find in studies that certain herbs, plants, minerals and vitamin combinations can provide similar benefits to a majority of drugs, while causing no side effects.

  10. homerjay says:

    I can’t remember a visit to my doctor in recent years where I wasn’t sitting in the waiting room next to a drug rep. My Dr. also prescribes almost exclusively generics. Guess the reps are nothing more than SWAG delivery vehicles. What a waste of money.

  11. GitEmSteveDave says:

    The only thing I like is that sometimes my doc gives me some of the “free” samples that they give to her, which was great when we were trying to nail down how much/what combo would work for me, since I didn’t have insurance.

  12. mantari says:

    ALWAYS when I see my doctor, there are drug reps in the waiting room to see him or the other doctor. I find this very disturbing. How many times a day are drug reps in there to ‘inform and educate’ him?

    I do see the upside that GITEMSTEVEDAVE mentions, about the free samples. But, damn, at what price?

  13. csdiego says:

    I had a doctor a couple of years back who kept me waiting more than an hour, more than once, while drug reps chatted him up and invited him to fabulous “educational” dinners. The same guy screamed at me–pulled up on his stool within inches of my face and screamed–when I didn’t fill one of his many prescriptions fast enough for his taste.

    I hesitated to leave because I had just been diagnosed with a serious health problem, but I quit and found a nice low-key doctor that I just love. I’m not sure how he gets by without writing a zillion prescriptions, but I’m not complaining.

  14. JKinNYC says:

    @homerjay: If it wasn’t effective, they wouldn’t do it. The reps are judged on prescription rates in their regions

  15. homerjay says:

    @JKinNYC: How do you know the prescription rates are based on rep interaction? I used to be a tech rep for a huge company and we were judged in a similar way. Did I have any direct impact on the number? Hell no.

  16. @axiomatic: Exactly. They’re either male middle-aged 20-year marketing vets, or under-30 blonde hotties. They came by my former office every couple weeks or so, just to “check up.”

    All the guys would fawn over the women, and I’d think, “It’s nice that they’re here, but why do you need to push a glaucoma medication?”

  17. JKinNYC says:

    @homerjay: Oh, there’s no relationship, really. My friend knew they had only a minimal effect. That still doesn’t negate the fact that it must have some effect or they wouldn’t do it. Reps are all making 70-80k or more to start, plus benes including cars. IT has to have some value to the companies.

  18. Youthier says:

    I saw my pedetrician until I was damn near out of college for my asthma and sinus issues. Drug reps were always giving him samples and he would give plenty of them out to his patients with crappy prescription plans or no insurance so that we wouldn’t have to go to the pharmacy.

  19. Pinget says:

    I wish they would make the drug reps sit in their own special waiting room. And they can only see the doc AFTER all patients with appointments have been seen.

  20. fhic says:

    I used to date a pharma rep. She would dress hotter for work than she would if we were going out somewhere. It amused the hell out of me… for a while.

    Turns out she was a lying sack of shit in her personal life, so I can’t imagine what she was like with her customers. Or maybe I don’t want to.

  21. homerjay says:

    @JKinNYC: Yeah thats pretty much what I was making with little or no influence over my customers. Its VERY easy to justify spending that kind of money when you’ve virtually got a licence to print money. Next time you’re at your Dr’s, ask him or her whether or not they get anything buy SWAG and food out of their drug reps- like useful INFORMATION.

  22. phanie says:

    I worked in a pharmacy for 5 years and these slime buckets would show up with more magnets, notepads and pens that I didn’t need to buy pens in college. They also always had their picture on their business cards. Mostly because the pharmacists I worked for were men and the drug reps were all under 30 blonde women. They never sent us the hot men. Oh, well.

  23. satoru says:

    This is kind of old news. Sure drug reps still hound doctors to give them the heads up on some new drug. But generally the Direct To Consumer marketing is far more effective for them. It has been shown that ‘bribing’ your doctor is very ineffective in the long term. Doctors basically just give out whatever the last drug rep mentioned. But by targeting consumers, then consumers demand something so the doctors just give it out.

  24. Auntie M. says:

    Here’s an article from the NYT where it basically says that the drug companies want to hire ex-cheerleaders for their good looks and “pep.” [tinyurl.com]

    There’s also a movement among current medical students and new doctors to ban the reps from their practice.

  25. krom says:

    Always ask for generic. That forces the doctor to prescribe you something that a major drug company isn’t making bank from — their patent has expired, allowing brand-X versions to exist.

    I don’t have an argument against free samples, though. Okay, they might have undesirable side effects, but they more likely won’t, and at least you don’t get jacked at the pharmacy register. I got some *really* good antihistamines once that way.

  26. hydrargyrum says:

    @Saboth: That is incredibly untrue. I took St. John’s Wort for about two weeks before I went to the doctor for something unrelated and discovered that the Wort had royally fucked up my liver. The doc actually called me up half an hour after I left her office to tell me to immediately stop taking it, DO NOT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HAVE ANY ALCOHOL, and to come back in as soon as possible. Lots of essential oils have warnings not to use if you’re pregnant, have sensitive skin, are allergic to X, have high blood pressure, etc. I’m sure some treatments have fewer side effects (and/or effectiveness? perhaps…) than their Big Pharma counterparts, but like any other active substance you put in your body, they are by no means harmless or risk-free.

    And drug reps piss me off so badly. Last time I was at the hospital, I saw a couple of them stuffing goody bags by the elevators and then waltzing in to see the docs while I was still waiting to be called in. You’d think they’d at least /try/ to hide the bribery.

  27. getjustin says:

    I can’t decide who’s lower on the totem pole, drug reps or child pornographers. I knew a couple of drug reps through friends and they were two of the slimiest, money-hungry, look at my Hummer assholes I’ve ever met.

  28. axiomatic says:

    Hey diabetics (type II myself), be careful of generic diabeties medicines. The volumes of the different chemicals used in the generics is not as “regulated” as the brand name drugs, so if you forget to take your meds at the prescribed time, its a big deal with the generics and no such a big deal with the brand names. I’m not saying to not use generic, just to be careful if you do. Just because the generic pill is a 500mg of “glucophage” you might not have the full 500mg you owuld with a brand name, there might only be 350+mg of “medecine” in that 500mg tablet.

    My doctor tests the generics regularly and this is his finding. The brand name always has the proper amount though.

  29. powerjhb says:

    One of my doctor’s drug rep has been providing me with free meds for 9 months and I still have an additional six month supply until the drug I’m taking is added to the formulary, so they are not all bad. Otherwise, I’d be paying $250 a month for the drug that works and has had no side effects. I participated in the drug study for the med so that may be why he is so generous, but I do not care.

  30. Parting says:

    @powerjhb: Unless the generic is made in China, I don’t see how that could happen.

    Your doctor is lying, to test drug’s contents, he need a full laboratory, a lot of expensive equipment and a lot of time. That’s a lot of resources. A doctor is not a pharmacist or chemist. Something is not right in his statement. Probably he got too many free lunches from the drug rep.

    Plus generic drugs are as well regulated as brand names.

  31. ideagirl says:

    @krom: that isn’t as easy as it used to be. The last three doctors I have seen have refused to prescribe me generic medications when I knew damn well the older drugs would work as well as the newer drugs.

  32. Parting says:

    Sorry, that was a reply to AXIOMATIC ;)

  33. powerjhb says:

    @chouchou: W
    Wrong response, I think you meant Axiomatic

  34. Parting says:

    @powerjhb: Yep, my mistake

  35. powerjhb says:

    Then you should write your insurance company and tell them about those doctors as they are costing the health plan more money as well. I would mention that to any doctor who refused to write a generic scrip as they would lose a lot of patients quickly.

  36. mac-phisto says:

    i’m not a doctor, but a doctor friend gave me this awesome duoneb pen that writes perfect & has a palm stylus on the other end.

    i don’t even what ipratropium bromide and albuterol sulfate are, but if that’s what they made this pen out of, hook me up with a 12-pack.

  37. ipsedixiter says:

    You know, the doctor at the beginning of this story says that she has 3 drug reps for 1 medicine and complains that she doesn’t want to hear from all 3. AS IF, she doesn’t have a choice — she’s a big girl, just tell them no. These doctors love to complain about the reps, but they also love the handouts they get.

  38. axiomatic says:

    @chouchou: No I watched him do this. He had a small set up that looked kind of like a chlorine pool test kit. Ground up one of the pills with a mortal and pestle and then added a liquid to the solution and then some test drops and per the color of the test was how much of the “medicine” was estimated in the pill. He even said it was a very “basic” test, but that it at least proves there is variance in generic drugs. The brand name drug hit the color target perfectly and he did the exact steps on both pills.

    If it was a “snakeoil” show, it was a good show, and he is considered one of the premier endocrinologists in Houston, TX and part of the AMA. I seriously doubt he would put his practice in jeopardy with a “snakeoil” show.

    I respect what you are saying but unfortunately I think he is right on this one. Honestly, there was a similar story on 20/20 a few years ago claiming the same thing, so I don’t find this too unbelievable.

    On top of all this, you truly beleive all “generic” pharmaco. companies are honest? I seriously doubt that.

  39. axiomatic says:

    @chouchou: as a follow up comment: My doctor, even after his test, still prescribed me the generic drug, so his motivation was not to “sell” me on the brand name. That alone should lend some credence to his test I would hope?

  40. gruffydd says:

    @mandarin: When did Marketing become this decades version of Lawyers? I haven’t heard any Marketing jokes yet, but I’ll give it another year.

  41. mstevens says:

    We stopped allowing any pharma reps to give docs ANY freebies (pizza, pens, whatever) except samples for patients. Despite all the hue and cry from some of my colleagues about how valuable the educational tidbits from pharma reps were (response: go for it. Just pay for your own meal and use your own pen), without the freebies most of us simply quit spending any time with them. We still have no difficulty getting samples for our patients. The reason our policy was put in place is the very clear evidence that even “token” freebies affect prescribing behavior quite a lot (in line with the many “if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it” comments above).

  42. gruffydd says:

    We sat and watched as my husbands Cardiologist tried to escape from his office without being seen by the 2 pharma reps in his waiting room. (Two blonde 20-something hotties in short skirts toting their wheelie suitcases behind them)

  43. Starfury says:

    I worked for a large medical group a few years ago. The pharma reps were EVERYWHERE! One of the clinics had lunch delivered every day by one of the various reps that showed up. Every clinic had pens/notepads/clocks/mousepads that all had drug names on them. One place even had a Viagra clock…the second had had a blue pill on the end.

    Near the end of my time there the CEO of the group cut them off. No more free lunches, no more pens/etc, no more access to the doctors just by walking into the patient areas, no more access to the sample cabinets. They had to sign in and make appointments to see the doctors if they wanted to push their product and a few of the doctors refused to see any of the reps. It was a major change but for the better. When this was implemented drug companies were spending as much on marketing as they did on R&D. If you looked at a chart, R&D $$ spent were the same for the last 7 years but marketing was increasing 10% or more per year.

    I also hate all the commercials on TV for drugs. Those commercials should be pulled and no longer shown.

  44. consumer_999 says:

    Interviewer: “Are drug companies more interested in helping patients, or making a profit?”
    Physician: “I hate to say it, but probably making a profit.”

    OMG! NO! I thought multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies were good people and did everything they did so you can avoid having the sniffles! (side effects may include nausea, bloody nose, headache, insomnia, and in some rare cases, seizure and death)

    My doc is one of the pushers. He rolls his eyes if I show any initiative in my own care, and constantly asks if I’m interested in drug X. Everyone is fucking corrupt.

  45. BigNutty says:

    How sad is it that I now know the names of the drug reps. that come to visit and notice when a new rep comes. I started getting all the free gifts they bring to the office (except the drug samples) as I’m treated like one of the family.

    I don’t know if bribes (other than the gifts)are part of the process but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  46. weave says:

    Just as bad is when the doctor prescribes you something (my case Lexapro) and your insurance company forces him to change it to the pre-patent generic else they won’t pay. In this case the generic is less effective meaning you have to take twice as much, meaning more chances of side effects. (Complete details on the difference are on wikipedia)

  47. cmize says:

    Drug reps are the lowest of the very low. I work in a medical clinic and we’ve had to put the drug samples in locked cabinets inside of a locked room not to keep employees from stealing them but to prevent drug reps from coming in, removing their competitors samples and replacing them with their own.

    They are just the sleaziest people imaginable.

  48. royal72 says:

    i have two words for you, “drug dealers”. illegal or otherwise, you’d be hard pressed to find a humanitarian in the bunch.

  49. StevieD says:

    My Doc’s practice has mostly old geezers with a couple young studs mixed into office.

    During one visit I noticed that one of the young studs was deleted from the practice letterhead. Didn’t think much of the missing young stud until I overheard some nurses chatting and noticed the lack of hottie drug reps hanging around the office.

    Yep, Dr Young Stud was getting lots of fring benefits from the hottie drug reps.

    Those drug reps really are lowlife.

    Ok, I agree, Dr. Young Stud was a lowlife as well.

    But if I was 20 years younger, single, and built like Dr. Young Stud I sure would dip my wick into the FREE drug rep pool.

  50. yttri says:

    actually most pharm cos pay physicians for “medical lectures” for other physicians because of all the restrictions on drugs reps.
    physicians are the new drug whores!

  51. duffbeer703 says:

    @chouchou: For certain drugs, there can be a perceptible difference between the generic and the name-brand drug. Drugs that regulate things like Thyroid levels, gall bladder function and other endocrine systems are very common. Some women report problems with certain kinds of generic birth control as well.

    One reason may be that while the active ingredients in a generic are the same, other ingredients may vary. Subtle variations in the coating, coloring or other “inert” ingredients can affect the way that certain drugs affect certain people.

  52. themanishere says:

    For those of you who really believe generics are the same, visit the AMA (American Medical Assoc) website and read about how generics don’t have to have the same level of active ingredient as the branded drug. Scary stuff!
    Do you know who made your generic?
    When you re-filled, was it from the same generic company?
    Is your LIFE worth so little that you would rather spend a few bucks on your blood pressure meds, but hey, I need a $5 coffee please…

    I guess no one read this article from the AP which just came out.

    Every industry has sales reps. The vast majority of all sales reps sell the features and benefits of what they are selling–in the case of drugs, if they weren’t effective or safer than the older generics,
    do you really believe your doctor would prescribe it to you? NO!

    All for all of you who have said bad things about doctors, pharmaceutical reps and companies (and who also have taken the free samples when at the doctors office), throw away your meds and never take another drug because you are obviously so much smarter than everyone else….moron!
    Foreign drugmakers escape FDA scrutiny
    updated 12:03 p.m. CT, Thurs., Nov. 1, 2007
    WASHINGTON – Two-thirds of the foreign drug manufacturers subject to inspection by the Food and Drug Administration may never have been visited by agency inspectors, a government watchdog reported to Congress Thursday.
    The FDA this year listed 3,249 foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers subject to its inspection – yet the agency cannot determine whether it has ever inspected 2,133 of them, according to a Government Accountability Office report released during a House subcommittee hearing.

  53. themanishere says:

    No profit equals no new drugs. It only cost about a billion to develop a new drug–even if it never gets to market. Those dumb companies shouldn’t be allowed to get their money back.
    The workers should just get welfare and get whipped to make us another drug. Everything should just be free.
    But I suppose you work for an organization that runs off nuts and berries and everyone works for free and lives in a cardboard box and nothing is produced but good deeds. Please join reality soon where profit is good for everyone.

  54. themanishere says:

    @axiomatic: His motivation is that doctors are paid a handsome bonus for prescribing the right mix of generic and brand name drugs, usually around 50% to 75% generic to branded. So yes, he is motivated by money because the generic companies have figured out the system–why else would he give you an older generic and not the newest treatment? Besides, your generic might be $5 a month vs $15 to $50 for the branded. Is your life worth so little?