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A federal lawsuit has been filed against pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca for its role in paying Chicago psychiatrist Dr. Michael Reinstein nearly $500,000 over the course of a decade to conduct research and to promote its anti-psychotic drug, Seroquel. Reinstein is being accused of wrongfully preying on thousands of mentally-ill patients in order to rake in profits for AstraZeneca.
You may not be as aware of the numbers behind the images. In 2004 US pharmaceutical sales totaled $235.4 billion, of which 24% was spent on marketing of existing drugs, over twice the expenditure on research and development of new compounds. Of the industry’s $57.5 billion marketing budget, 36% was spent on visits to physicians by industry representatives (“detailing”), 28% was spent on drug samples for doctors to give to patients, while only 7% was used for direct to consumer advertising. (Gagnon MA, Lexchin J. The Cost of Pushing Pills: A New Estimate of Pharmaceutical Promotion Expenditures in the United States. PLoS Med 2008). Physicians themselves become extensions of the drug advertising apparatus by accepting thousands of dollars to give lectures, with the implicit expectation that they promote the company’s drug (Carlat D Dr. Drug Rep. The New York Times Magazine Nov 25, 2007). Clinical researchers are offered something money can’t buy: authorship on manuscripts reporting drug trials which have been written by company employees (referred to as “ghostwriting”) (Ross JL et al. JAMA 2008;299:1800-1812).