Drug companies aim to sway docs through classes

Doctors around the country are required to obtain continuing education credits throughout the course of their career. John Fauber and Susanne Rust of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looked into drug-company funding of continuing education courses that often extol the virtues of a certain company’s pharmaceuticals while neglecting to mention any side-effects.

The drug industry has increased spending on doctor education from $302 million in 1998 to $1.2 billion in 2006, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. It now pays for more than half of all such courses.

“Drug companies have essentially hijacked the highest level of medical education we have in this country,” said (Daniel Carlat, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University Medical School), who also publishes a monthly continuing medical education psychiatry report that does not accept drug company funding.

The reporters focused on the University of Wisconsin, but found the problem to be widespread.

“What you are seeing in Wisconsin is just another example of what is going on all over the country,” said Arnold Relman, professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School and a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. “It’s unethical, and it is not in the public interest because it is going to bias doctors to use certain drugs.”

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