The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday on what could be a landmark decision on states' rights to regulate prescription drug data-mining and marketing.
Supreme Court to hear arguments in drug data-mining case
The case is Sorrell v. IMS Health, an appeal by Vermont of a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in November that overturned a law seeking to control the use of prescription drug data for the purposes of marketing pharmaceuticals to physicians.
In that case, the New York-based appeals court overturned a lower court decision and found in favor of appellants—IMS Health; Verispan; Source Healthcare Analytics, a subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer Health; and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America—that the 2007 Vermont law constituted "an impermissible restriction of commercial speech."
But that ruling made it only one out of three for the marketers in appellate decisions on the New England drug laws. Last August, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled in support of similar state laws in Maine and New Hampshire. It found that the two states had offered sufficient evidence that drug marketing has an impact on doctors and "presented anecdotal evidence strongly indicating that sales pitches based on specific prescribing patterns have a particularly persuasive impact on drug choice" and that public benefits obtained through the restrictions outweighed corporate interests in commercial speech.
States across the country, including Washington and Massachusetts, have considered adopting similar laws, according to the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, a nonpartisan association of state legislators, which together with AARP filed a "friend of the court" brief with the Supreme Court in support of the Vermont law.
"A decision invalidating the Vermont law will affect the viability of the laws in its neighboring northern New England states, and a decision upholding the law will give a green light to states that are weighing whether to adopt similar patient and practitioner protections," said Sharon Treat, NLARx executive director.
Robert Steinfeld, senior vice president and general counsel of IMS, a prescription drug data marketer, said in a statement in March, when the company filed its appeal of the New Hampshire decision, that it jeopardized "both speech and commerce, including market research, data collection and dissemination, financial analysis, consumer studies, credit verification and important publishing activities."
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.