BMJ2004;329:937(23October), doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7472.937

Extract of this article

PDF of this article

Email this article to a friend

Respond to this article

Other related articles in BMJ

Download to Citation Manager

Search Medline for articles by:
Kmietowicz, Z.

Alert me when:
New articles cite this article


Collections under which this article appears:


Consumer organisations criticise influence of drug companies

Zosia Kmietowicz


The pharmaceutical industry operates in a way that puts profits before public health, members of parliament (MPs) heard last week. And the regulatory authorities, which are meant to ensure the safety of drugs and protect the public, collude with the industry, they were told.

Testimonies from five doctors and two consumer champions, who were being questioned by the health select committee for its inquiry into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, built a picture of an industry that creates health anxieties among the public to boost its profits.

At the same time, withholding unfavourable trial results and controlling what research gets published ensures that doctors get the messages that companies want to promote, the committee heard at the second public sitting of its inquiry.

Public awareness campaigns are part of a "multipronged marketing approach" that are commonly employed by drug companies to "gain further control over what medicines are being prescribed and to whom," said Graham Vidler, head of policy at the consumer organisation Which?, formerly known as the Consumers' Association.

"These can often be for quite trivial conditions, such as toenail infections, and they encourage patients to go and see their general practitioner, often in quite strong terms," said Mr Vidler. "At the same time the industry will be advertising drugs to these GPs, and our research shows that GPs often take the path of least resistance and say yes to patients and prescribe the drug even though they feel it may not be the most appropriate thing to do."

GPs can see pharmaceutical representatives on a daily basis, and their influence can lead to changes in prescribing habits, said Des Spence, a GP in Glasgow and spokesman for the No Free Lunch campaign, a group of UK healthcare professionals concerned at the undue influence of the pharmaceutical industry on doctors in promoting drug products.

"Within three or four years [of it being launched] Vioxx [rofecoxib] became 40% of the medicines we were using in my area," said Dr Spence. "The industry has a major influence on healthcare policy. The influence is across the field and affects doctors, nurses, patient organisations, and government agencies. The industry is active in all these fields and has a very clear agenda