(THE BEST YEARS IN LIFE) – Being found guilty of criminal activity or professional misconduct might be expected to curtail opportunities and income for most of us, but such has not been the case with disciplined doctors and Big Pharma.
By Tony Isaacs
As the ProPublica news agency reported, hundreds of doctors who’ve been sanctioned, fined, suspended and even convicted of crimes have been making big money as drug company speakers, consultants, educators and drug trial overseers. ProPublica examined payment records of 7 pharmaceutical companies in 30 states and found 292 disciplined doctors who earned a collective $7.1 million in 2009-2010 alone.
Accusations against the doctors included serious medical mistakes, sexual misconduct, and excessive use of addictive drugs. Seventy of the doctors had been sanctioned multiple times or by more than one state. Twenty-one of them had three or more strikes against their records.
Since the investigation excluded over 60 pharmaceutical companies and 20 states, the total number of disciplined doctors on Big Pharma’s payroll is sure to be much higher. In addition, not all doctors properly report their drug company incomes – as Colorado Public Radio found when it reviewed the ProPublica data and discovered that at least 84 Colorado physicians did not follow state law and disclose their drug company contracts.
AMONG THE FINDINGS BY PROPUBLICA AND OTHER NEWS ORGANIZATIONS:
*A Long Island psychiatrist spoke on behalf of a Pfizer’s antipsychotic drug even though his New York medical license was suspended in 2001 and he was placed on probation for five years for helping supply the narcotic drug Vicodin to six patients who were drug addicts.
*A Texas psychiatrist was disciplined in 2000 after being accused of improperly prescribing drugs to several patients, including one who died of an overdose. The doctor’s website indicates he has given more than 1,300 presentations on stress disorders.
*Two Orlando-area urologists who pled guilty in 2001 to conspiracy to sell the prescription drug Lupron without complying with FDA regulations received almost $200,000 from Glaxo between 2009 and 2010.
*The most highly sanctioned doctor was a Phoenix family doctor specializing in HIV. He was disciplined five times between 1996 and 2009. In the most serious case, numerous male patients accused him of sexually victimizing or violating them.
*Another sanctioned physician was a cardiologist whose license was suspended in New York and New Jersey this year after he pleaded guilty to one count of criminal sexual contact in 2008.
A previous New York Times investigation in 2007 found that in Minnesota alone at least 103 doctors who had been disciplined or criticized by the state medical board received a total of $1.7 million from drug makers between 1997 to 2005. The median payment over that period was $1,250; the largest was $479,000.
One such doctor was a psychiatrist the Minnesota Medical board accused of having a “reckless, if not willful, disregard” for the welfare of 46 patients, 5 of whom died in his care or shortly afterward. Despite his license being suspended and restricted, drug makers paid the psychiatrist thousands for each clinical trial patient he recruited. One patient who refused recruitment was discharged by the psychiatrist despite being diagnosed as suicidal. Two weeks later the patient committed suicide.
“If I’m sitting in an audience listening to a physician tout a certain drug and I was aware of those disciplinary actions,” said Dr. Humayun J. Chaudhry, chief executive of the Federation of State Medical Boards, “I would have questions about their character and their motivation for talking about that subject.”
Dr. Chaudhry said pharmaceutical companies could easily ask his group to search for discipline in any state against any of their physicians.