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New Group Says Inflated Drug Prices are Prescription for Disaster

January 17, 2008

Boston, MA – A new coalition launching today is hoping to "bottle up" rising prescription drug prices to keep health care costs down. The Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition says the solution starts with reforming the way companies market drugs to physicians. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, drug companies spend $7 billion annually on marketing that targets physicians.

State Senator Mark Montigny, former chair of the Committee on Health Care, says he's fought for years to make policy changes, but his bills have been overpowered by lobbyists.

"One of the pieces that I filed separately, and am still pushing, is banning gifts. No doctor or hospital should receive anything from the pharmaceutical industry. It taints their decision making. That bill has already passed the Senate twice."

Montigny says it takes a broad-based coalition like this one to get things done. One significant way to hold down costs is the use of generic drugs, which the F.D.A. says often work just as well as name brand drugs and can cost up to 80 percent less.

Jessica Costantino, advocacy director for A.A.R.P. Massachusetts, says now that health insurance is required in the state it's even more important to keep costs in check.

"With the new health care reform law we want to make sure that prescription drugs don't totally skew the cost for all of the health care reforms that are happening here."

Doctor Daniel Carlat, a psychiatrist in Newburyport, was hired by a drug company in 2002 to speak to other doctors about certain drugs. The practice is legal, but he ultimately quit for ethical reasons.

"Here I was, being paid quite a bit of money by this company to give these talks, and it was very hard not to do what I felt I needed to do in order to continue to get paid this money."

Carlat explains the drug companies used computer data-mining to provide him with detailed prescribing habits for each doctor he gave talks to. He now believes there should be a policy that keeps that information private.

Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MA