Indian drug reps dole out gifts for scripts

In India, drug sales reps are straightforward about what they expect from doctors--and what doctors can get in return. Just three prescriptions per day for Abbott Laboratories' ($ABT) Nupod antibiotic? You win a coffee maker.

As Reuters reports, Abbott's pitch--detailed in a sales-strategy guide obtained by the news service--is not at all unique. Foreign and domestic drugmakers hand out gifts, cash and luxury vacations to doctors, and they get prescriptions in return. Some reps have themselves complained about the gifts--one group actually went on strike a few weeks ago in protest--but in the competitive marketplace, handouts help companies stand out.

Though major drugmakers denied that they flout India's rules against pharma largesse, some company executives admitted their gift-giving to the news service, if anonymously. A Biocon official, for one, told Reuters that his company gives doctors iPads, iPods, cellphones, "you name it."

The terms aren't always as explicit as Abbott's sales guide outlines, but the gifts deliver results just the same. As one Delhi cardiologist told the news service, it's just a natural inclination to "return the favor." He said he prescribes more drugs from gift-giving companies, and he's taken trips to destinations such as Thailand and Hong Kong on pharma's dime.

Fancy trips and other gifts may sway doctors in the U.S., as critics have been pointing out for years now. But consider how powerful they could be in a country where doctors make $10,000 a year, as Reuters notes. Critics of gift-giving in India say that some drugs are over-prescribed because of the incentives, and expensive brands are used when cheap alternatives abound.

Biocon's official spokesperson denied the executive's comments as "absolutely untrue." Abbott said it complies with local rules in India and that its policies prohibit quid-pro-quo gifts.

- read the Reuters story

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