Three top editors of the New England Journal of Medicine have weighed-in on the controversial prescription drug data-mining debate in an April 27 online editorial, coming out foursquare in support of laws in three states seeking to control the use of physician-identified prescription data used in marketing drugs to those physicians.
Supreme Court hearings stir NEJM reaction
On April 26, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sorrell vs. IMS Health, et al, pitting the attorney general and the Vermont Legislature against the pharmaceutical data-gathering and data analysis industry. The fate of the Vermont statute and similar laws on the books in Maine and New Hampshire likely hang in the balance of what is shaping up to be a landmark decision by the high court in a case pitting states' rights to regulate the commercial use of patient information and what the data-mining industry purports to be the constitutionally protected free speech rights of corporations.
The editorial, “Prescriptions, Privacy and the First Amendment,” appears under the bylines of Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, NEJM editor-in-chief, Dr. Gregory Curfman, executive editor, and Stephen Morrissey, managing editor, and contains a brief, blunt description of the commercial intent of the data-gathering process, concluding, that the data winds up empowering the sales forces of pharmaceutical manufacturers. “These solicitations are not intended to communicate evidence-based information to doctors; they are intended to sell expensive drugs.”
“It is a very successful business,” the editors said. “When drug detailers have the prescribing history of the physicians they are visiting, they sell more drugs. This is one of the principal reasons why the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade organization of the pharmaceutical industry, joined the data miners as a party to the lawsuit.”
“As medical journal editors committed to the open communication of medical knowledge, we are strong proponents of First Amendment protection for speakers who attempt to communicate important evidence-based health information or advocate for patients' and physicians' rights,” they said, adding, “This undesirable practice is nothing more than commercial conduct—not speech—and it is not in the best interest of the health of the American people.”
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.