Here's an editorial by Jerome P. Kassirer from yesterday's Boston Globe that points to meetings specifically as being one of pharma's media of influence over physicians. He uses the recent $185 million class action lawsuit against Bristol-Myers Squibb —specifically, how "Bristol-Myers Squibb-paid physicians in major medical meetings were shamelessly exaggerating the benefits of the drug for patients with high blood pressure and heart failure and failing to report publicly on substantial numbers of life-threatening drug complications which they knew, from their close relationship to the company, to exist." More from his editorial:
The BMS settlement exposed a well-hidden method of influencing doctors. The biased talks were given in ''symposia" at major national medical meetings of major medical organizations such as the American Society of Hypertension and the American College of Cardiology. Symposia, little known to the public, are special events, usually lectures by leaders in the field, sponsored by drug and device companies and typically held in the morning before the official program or in the evening following the day's usual program. Nice snacks and drinks are often served and sometimes dinner also. As hard as they try to be objective, the speakers' financial ties to the industry often create subtle (or even overt) biases that induce them, either consciously or subconsciously, to adhere to the company line. From the experience with Vioxx, we learned that if they stray from the company's message, they may not last long as a paid speaker. (For perspective, the preliminary program of the American Psychiatric Association's June 2006 meeting in Toronto features at least 46 such symposia, sponsored by the major companies that make the drugs that psychiatrists prescribe.) What the APA gets for this collaboration with industry and what industry gets in return is not public knowledge.