In another exhibition of corporate greed over public good in the pharmaceutical sector, a recently released document (available here) reveals Forest Laboratories extensive effort to market its drug Lexapro to doctors. So whats the rub? Lexapro is much more expensive than other drugs in its class used to treat the same condition—depression—but has never been shown to work any better than older drugs that cost a fraction of what Lexapro does.
The New York Times reported on September 1 that Forest Labs planned to spend almost 35 million dollars to pay thousands of doctors to deliver marketing lectures to their peers. At these meetings meals were provided in various settings, from white linen dinners to one-on-one lunches. Another program used by Forest (and other companies) is Lunch and Learn where doctors are taken to lunch or lunch is brought in and the presentations are made. Forest Labs was prepared to shell out 36 million dollars for this program. In these lectures the message the doctors would deliver to their colleagues was that Lexapro was superior to all other antidepressants. Curiously, FDA never required, nor did Forest ever show that Lexapro was superior to any older drug.
What is clear is that Lexapro was much more expensive than other antidepressants. For example, a months supply of Lexapro costs about 88 dollars. The equivalent prescription of generic Prozac costs about 14 dollars. Any guesses about where all that money goes?
Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat from Wisconsin and Chairman of the Committee on Aging was given the Forest document by the Senate Finance Committee who has previously investigated Big Pharma. Kohls committee held a hearing in July on whether medical education by Big Pharma leads to tainted talks with doctors. Kohl asked Is the line between medical education and marketing blurred? His answer: These documents show that for these companies, there is no line.