Prescription Drug Reform Key to Health Reform

New report features model program aimed at curbing undue industry influence and skyrocketing costs associated with prescription drugs
Augusta: There are now 90,000 pharmaceutical sales reps going door to door to doctor’s offices across America to promote their products.  Every hour of every day on television, there are 80 drug ads telling us to ‘ask our doctor about such and such a drug.’  The pharmaceutical industry enjoys returns as high as $10 for every dollar invested in these marketing efforts. But do they really improve our health or just drive up costs?

In this month’s issue of Choices, The Maine Center for Economic Policy provides a better option in  A New Kind of House Call Delivers Science not Sales, by Jennifer Reck of Prescription Policy Choices, a Hallowell-based nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to safe, effective, and affordable prescription drugs.

The solution is a new system where trained, impartial clinicians meet with physicians and other prescribers to provide independent, scientific information based on rigorous reviews of available data on the efficacy of various prescription drugs.  Prescriber education is a useful tool for getting independent information to  busy medical professionals.

In 2007, Maine passed legislation authorizing the state to create a prescriber education service.  Vermont passed similar legislation that same year.

“There’s momentum across New England and the rest of the country to get these programs up and running,” says Reck, “including federal legislation to provide resources to get this information produced and disseminated.”

Prescription drug sales reached $286.5 billion in the US in 2007, up from $40.3 billion in 1990. During that time, the pharmaceutical industry reoriented itself from a research and development focused venture to a marketing-focused venture.   The commercial incentives to promote over-use or inappropriate use of the most expensive medicines are strong and their influence is pervasive. 

“It’s not always the best medicine,” say Reck. “Consumers are bombarded with advertising.  Clinics are feted with free samples.  One pilot program showed that we could save as much as two dollars for every one dollar invested in prescriber education programs.”

“Impartial prescriber education is one way to bend the cost curve that everyone in health care reform is talking about these days, ” says Garrett Martin, MECEP’s health policy analyst.  “It’s one of many policy and program options that are critical if we are going to achieve health reform that is cost-effective and results in better outcomes.”

To access the Choices report:  A New Kind of House Call Delivers Science not Sales: Prescription Drug Reform that Works

To learn more about Prescription Policy Choices