Doc reaped $750K as "Forest's star spokesman"

Another Harvard Medical School psychiatrist is in the hot seat. Federal prosecutors say Dr. Jeffrey Bostic, who directs school psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, went on the road for Forest Laboratories to promote pediatric use of their antidepressants Celexa and Lexapro, which are not approved for children. Bostic was "Forest's star spokesman" and gleaned more than $750,000 from 2000 to 2006 for his efforts, the feds say.

The allegations about Bostic are included in an off-label marketing complaint filed against Forest in Boston and unsealed last week. As you know, that complaint accuses Forest of paying kickbacks to doctors to get them to prescribe its antidepressants and alleges that the company buried results of a negative study to keep its campaign in high gear.

Bostic isn't a target in the case. But prosecutors detailed his interactions with Forest to support their contentions against the company. The government said that, in addition to Bostic's speeches and presentations sponsored by Forest, the company also "paid Dr. Bostic to meet other physicians in their offices in order to ease their concerns about prescribing" Celexa and Lexapro.

Mass General defended Bostic, telling the Boston Globe that he is a "highly regarded practitioner and educator in the field of psychiatry." The doctor didn't just talk about Celexa and Lexapro in his speaking engagements, the hospital says, but about treating patients with various mental health issues. Colleagues also defended him, telling the Globe that he has "absolute integrity."

This is yet another chapter in the debate over pharma industry influence on doctors and medical schools. Another high-profile Mass General child psychiatrist recently found himself in the news because he allegedly failed to disclose to Harvard that he'd earned $1.5 million in consulting and speaking fees from pharmaceutical companies. (The psychiatrist said he's been conscientious about disclosure and that the money didn't bias his research). And just this week, Harvard made headlines because med students are protesting what they see as undue pharma influence on the faculty.

It's a sticky and complex issue--and one that raises a lot of hackles on both sides. So don't expect the debate to wrap up anytime soon.

- read the Globe article