Congress got an earful on pharma sales tactics yesterday. A former Eli Lilly rep told a Senate committee that drug makers hire ex-cheerleaders, models, and jocks to soft-soap doctors, exaggerate the benefits of the drugs they sell and soft-pedal the risks. "You drink the Kool-Aid," said Shahram Ahari, who spent two years repping Prozac and Zyprexa, according to ABC News. "We were taught to minimize the side effects, how to use conversational ploys to minimize it or change the topic."
And when he said "taught," he meant taught. During his training course, the rep said, he was taught:
- how to get around spending limits for important clients
- how to use free samples to amp up sales
- how to create a quid pro quo using personal gifts and friendships
- how to exploit sexual tension with clients
Ahari said the efforts bore fruit; he said he could cite "many times" his clients would start prescribing more of the drugs he repped "not based on the merits of my arguments but because we shared dinner at a fancy Manhattan restaurant."
Lilly responded by saying that Ahari's examples were exaggerated; a spokesman emphasized that his testimony didn't allege any specific product misconduct.
Ahari's testimony came as senators are considering developing a federal sales force that could counteract any biased drug company sales pitches with objective info on meds. But the government's marketing budget won't be near the billions pharma has to spend.
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