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Talk to Your Doctor about No Free Lunch

Talk to Your Doctor about No Free Lunch

October 30, 2007 —

Many of us assume that our doctor has our health in mind when prescribing a specific drug. But doctors face tremendous pressure from drug companies to prescribe their newest and most expensive products. Promotions as simple as pens, mugs or pizza lunches can be very effective in influencing a doctor's choice of medication.  Now, however, a group called No Free Lunch is taking on the drug industry and is asking patients—also known as consumers—to aid their cause.

Recent reports have stated that the pharmaceutical industry spends approximately $8,000-$13,000 each year per physician to promote its products.  And though many doctors deny that gifts influence decisions about which drugs to prescribe, studies contend that the gifts do produce results.  Expensive and sometimes inappropriate prescriptions, even from good doctors, are often the end result of drug representatives’ gifts of pens, calendars, and lunches.  In recent years, a number of medical doctors have started to take a stand against ‘gifts’ from drug companies.  In particular, No Free Lunch has gained publicity (most notably in Newsweek in October 2007).

No Free Lunch does not oppose drug companies informing and educating doctors, hospitals, and medical schools about their products, but does see the promotions, gifts, and repeated visits by representatives as unduly influencing clinical practice.  Though a relatively small group—only about 800 physicians have signed the Pledge to refuse gifts from the drug industry—No Free Lunch has attempted to inform both patients and doctors about the dangers of these gifts. Its Pen Amnesty program allows physicians to replace their drug company pens for pens with the No Free Lunch insignia.  The organization encourages patients to ask their doctors whether they have heard—or thought of joining—No Free Lunch and swearing off gifts from the drug industry.  The fight against the drug industry has taken a new turn and patients can do something about it.

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