As reported by the Associated Press, October 25, 2007.

UConn Health Center Debating Ban on Gifts from Industry Reps

FARMINGTON, Conn. - The University of Connecticut Health Center has joined a debate that is gathering steam across the country - whether to ban staff and students from taking gifts from drug company salesmen and other industry representatives.

A committee of administrators and students has put together a draft of a policy, over concerns that industry marketing is influencing medical training and the prescription writing.

Students announced the proposal at the health center Wednesday, in the middle of "PharmFree Week" sponsored by the American Medical Student Association. The group this week is calling on all medical schools to eliminate pharmaceutical marketing from their campuses.

"It's a very big issue. Small gifts or any gifts are undue influence," said Nitin Roper, 23, a second-year UConn medical student and a member of the policy panel. "They're targeting us early, so when we're able to prescribe we're more likely to prescribe their drugs."

According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, the pharmaceutical industry spends about 90 percent of its $21 billion annual marketing budget on doctors.

Roper said a high percentage of UConn students are exposed to drug company gifts when they go to private practice primary care clinics across the state as part of their education. He said drug sales reps have offered free lunches and, in some cases, equipment such as stethoscopes.

The industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America noted that it adopted an ethics code in 2002 that deals with interactions with doctors and other health care professionals.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the trade group, said the code makes it clear that all forms of entertainment, including sporting events and golf outings, are inappropriate.

The guidelines also say only modest meals should be allowed in connection with educational presentations, and the only things that should be given away are stethoscopes, medical dictionaries and other items that don't cost more than $100.

Johnson noted that several federal agencies regulate and monitor drug companies' marketing to doctors.

He said marketing is one of several ways doctors get information on treatment choices.

"It is important for health care providers to have the most up-to-date educational information about the benefits and risks of medicines so that patients can be safely and effectively treated," Johnson said in a statement Wednesday.

Stanford University in 2005 became the first college to ban pharmaceutical companies' gifts. Others followed suit, including Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, University of California at Davis, University of Michigan and Boston University.

Several other medical schools are considering similar policies, including UConn, Tufts University, University of Kentucky, University of New Mexico and the University of Maryland, according to the medical student association.

UConn Health Center students say their proposed policy is close to being implemented, but administrators say final approval is at least months away.

"We are at the early stages of this," said Dr. Kiki Nissen, associate dean for graduate medical education and chairwoman of the policy committee.

Nissen said the panel is looking at several issues besides gifts, including access to doctors, education of physicians and professional meetings that doctors attend.

"The industry has a very positive thing as well, obviously in scientific advances," she said. "There needs to be an appropriate balance of education of what industry represents as well as also make sure that they understand that there is inherent bias with industry if they are talking to you about their medications."