How to have fun with drug money

PharmedOut spends Pfizer's cash to talk about Eli Lilly's problems.

Topics: Globalization, How the World Works,

Pfizer’s announcement earlier this week that it would be forced to lay off 10,000 employees, in part due to the expiration of patent protection on Zoloft, could almost make a sensitive person feel sorry for the pharmaceutical giant. Maybe we’ve been too hard on Big Pharma. That’s a lot of presumably decent people who might still be employed if only we’d given Pfizer another decade or two of intellectual property protection.

But then you watch a video making the online rounds of an interview with a former Eli Lilly drug rep, explaining how he marketed Zyprexa, a popular treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. And your sympathy disappears faster than you can say “severe side effects.” Several states are currently investigating Eli Lilly to determine whether the company downplayed knowledge that patients who used the drug frequently became obese or exhibited other serious problems, such as diabetes.

Shahram Ahari, who worked for Zyprexa from 1998-2000, makes a compelling witness: articulate and damning. My two favorite quotes from the five-minute video:

“Statistics are like prisoners, torture them long enough and they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear.”

“Decisions like these are simply a [result of a] cost-benefit analysis … ‘if we start talking about [the side effects] now, we might lose X amount of millions of dollars, whereas if we let it slide, it might never be really noticed, or we might get in trouble for it but it will cost Y amount of dollars. To [discuss the side effects] now would be financially more costly than dealing with the repercussions five years later.”

You Might Also Like

Almost as interesting as the content of the video is its genesis. I learned about it via a link from Jason Shafrin’s Healthcare Economist blog. Shafrin picked it up from a blog called Kevin M.D. Kevin got it from PharmedOut, a nonprofit organization that launched in early January dedicated to educating physicians about the pharmaceutical industry. (Judging by a tag line on the video, PharmedOut appears to have worked with Ridgeway/Ng, the new online reporting outfit started by former Village Voice journalist James Ridgeway, to produce the clip.)

Here’s the best part: PharmedOut, run out of Georgetown University’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics, is funded by something called “the Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education grant program,” which was “created as part of a 2004 settlement between Warner-Lambert, a division of Pfizer, Inc., and the Attorneys General of 50 States and the District of Columbia, to settle allegations that Warner-Lambert conducted an unlawful marketing campaign for the drug Neurontin (gabapentin) that violated state consumer protection laws.”

So, to recap: An unlawful marketing campaign by Pfizer is helping to pay for an educational outreach program that is spreading the word about a potentially unlawful campaign by Eli Lilly. There is a great beauty to this.

Andrew Leonard
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>