According to the CI report, drug companies are covertly bribing doctors, suppressing or altering the results of drug-safety studies, and convincing consumers that they are ill through multi-billion-dollar marketing campaigns. CI says rampant malpractices in drug companies are still common, even after Merck's Vioxx scandal and the public backlash against the company's marketing of a known dangerous product.
CI director general Richard Lloyd says an "area of concern" brought to light by the report is "how the promotion of drugs by the pharmaceutical companies to doctors can lead to irrational drug use." The report cites drug companies' latest marketing campaigns as probable causes of increased "irrational" drug use. This includes using internet chat groups and product information websites to "inform" the public about diseases without directly promoting a specific product. "This type of 'nice-and-friendly' marketing is often disguised as corporate social responsibility, and has been shown to create a subtle need among consumers to demand drugs for the conditions, while giving consumers a sense of trust in the pharmaceutical companies," the report states.
CI says the public must be skeptical about what drugs their doctor prescribes them, and not to assume they are only safe drugs that they genuinely need; especially considering that drug companies spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research.
Half the companies examined in the study had been caught up in controversies concerning their relationships with healthcare professionals between 2001 and 2005. For example, AstraZeneca allegedly promoted its Crestor cholesterol drug by paying doctors' flights, hotels and musical tickets for the doctors attending its conference on the French Riviera. GlazoSmithKline is also being investigated by authorities in Germany and Italy for allegedly corrupting 1,600 German doctors and more than 4,000 Italian doctors with illegal "gifts."
Of the 20 companies cited in the study, only one -- Bristol-Myers Squibb -- provided a marketing code of conduct to consumers.