Pharma reps aren't talking about drug risks, study finds

Doctor with computer and gadgets

Doctors aren't getting the skinny on drug side effects from pharma reps, a new study finds. Even the most serious risks are often overlooked, the survey found. And while probes of off-label marketing abound, enforcement of risk disclosures during sales visits is mostly absent.

"Laws in all three countries require sales representatives to provide information on harm as well as benefits," lead author Barbara Mintzes of the University of British Columbia said in a release. "But no one is monitoring these visits and there are next to no sanctions for misleading or inaccurate promotion."

Researchers surveyed 255 family physicians in Canada, France and the U.S. The doctors were asked to fill out forms after each sales call. In all, some 1,700 visits were recorded between May 2009 and June 2010. Most of the doctors reported receiving little to no information about harmful side effects; in fact, sales reps failed to offer any information about side effects and contraindications in 59% of the visits recorded.

In fact, serious risks were mentioned only 6% of the time--despite the fact that almost 6 out of 10 of the promoted drugs carry "black box" safety warnings.

French reps were the most conscientious. They offered info on serious risks during 40% of their visits. Canadian reps were least likely to share risk information; Vancouver salespeople disclosed no potential harms for 66% of the drugs they promoted, the study found. Significant contraindications came up only 14% of the time in both Vancouver and Montreal. The U.S. reps were slightly better, sharing those contraindications 17% of the time.