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Prescription Drug Data for Sale

Here's a shocking fact. When doctors prescribe prescription drugs, the big drug companies get access to data on which doctors are prescribing which drugs to patients. Pharmaceutical companies then load the data up on sales reps' laptop computers to help figure out which doctors are the best targets for their next sales pitch.

As detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle, when Dr. Brad Drexler, a California obstetrician, was told about this "data mining" by the drug companies, he convinced the California Medical Association (CMA) to pass a 2003 resolution demanding that the government cut off access by pharmaceutical companies' marketing divisions to these prescription records. California Assemblywoman Wilma Chan introduced AB 262 in 2003 to ban use of prescription drug data for marketing purposes, but the drug companies successfully fought to kill the bill.

Multiple studies have shown that drug company marketing, which often includes gifts and other payoffs to doctors,can lead to prescriptions that are not necessarily in patients' best interests. Add in "data mining" of doctor's prescription habits and it's a recipe for bad medicine. Jamie Reidy, a former Pfizer company representative wrote in a 2005 book that: "Prescription data was our greatest tool in planning our approach to manipulating doctors."

Part of the problem is that CMA's parent organization, the American Medical Association, is colluding with the prescription drug companies by supplying them with data on doctors that can be matched with drug sale information to create this trove of marketing data. The AMA makes millions of dollars selling doctor information to the drug companies, so has refused to support efforts to fix the system.

Some states are saying enough is enough. Led by state Rep. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua), New Hampshire enacted a law, HB 1346, this past June which bans the release of any prescription drug data for commercial use.

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