NAMI pledges to back away from pharma money

Is the National Alliance on Mental Illness too close to Big Pharma? Could be, if money tells the story. After years of refusing to detail its funding sources, the advocacy group has had its piggybank busted wide open by Congressional investigators. And those investigators say NAMI gets the majority of its donations from drugmakers.

Sen. Charles Grassley has been probing industry's ties to doctors, academia, and advocacy groups, and as part of that probe, he demanded info from NAMI last spring. According to the New York Times, Grassley's investigators discovered that drugmakers contributed nearly $23 million to the group between 2006 and 2008. That's about three-fourths of its donations.

Why does it matter? The group routinely lobbies for mental-health legislation. And it's been criticized in the past for working too closely with the industry and pushing industry-friendly legislation. Critics have said it's a "front group" that pretends to advocate for patients when it's really more concerned with drug sales.

It's true, however, that access to mental health meds--including costly drugs--can benefit patients as well as drugmakers. But even NAMI seems to realize that industry funding, however innocent it may be, makes its motives suspect. "For at least the years of '07, '08 and '09, the percentage of money from pharma has been higher than we have wanted it to be," Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick told the Times. And he promised that the industry's share of donations would drop next year. "Everyone I talk to wants to have more balanced fund-raising."

- read the story in the NYT