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2.  Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives and Patient Safety: A Comparative Prospective Study of Information Quality in Canada, France and the United States 
Journal of General Internal Medicine  2013;28(10):1368-1375.
The information provided by pharmaceutical sales representatives has been shown to influence prescribing. To enable safe prescribing, medicines information must include harm as well as benefits. Regulation supports this aim, but relative effectiveness of different approaches is not known. The United States (US) and France directly regulate drug promotion; Canada relies on industry self-regulation. France has the strictest information standards.
This is a prospective cohort study in Montreal, Vancouver, Sacramento and Toulouse. We recruited random samples of primary care physicians from May 2009 to June 2010 to report on consecutive sales visits. The primary outcome measure was “minimally adequate safety information” (mention of at least one indication, serious adverse event, common adverse event, and contraindication, and no unqualified safety claims or unapproved indications).
Two hundred and fifty-five physicians reported on 1,692 drug-specific promotions. “Minimally adequate safety information” did not differ: 1.7 % of promotions; range 0.9–3.0 % per site. Sales representatives provided some vs. no information on harm more often in Toulouse than in Montreal and Vancouver: 61 % vs. 34 %, OR = 4.0; 95 % CI 2.8–5.6, or Sacramento (39 %), OR = 2.4; 95 % CI 1.7–3.6. Serious adverse events were rarely mentioned (5–6 % of promotions in all four sites), although 45 % of promotions were for drugs with US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “black box” warnings of serious risks. Nevertheless, physicians judged the quality of scientific information to be good or excellent in 901 (54 %) of promotions, and indicated readiness to prescribe 64 % of the time.
“Minimally adequate safety information” did not differ in the US and Canadian sites, despite regulatory differences. In Toulouse, consistent with stricter standards, more harm information was provided. However, in all sites, physicians were rarely informed about serious adverse events, raising questions about whether current approaches to regulation of sales representatives adequately protect patient health.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11606-013-2411-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3785667  PMID: 23558775
health policy; patient safety; primary care; health services research
3.  Patterns of psychotropic medicine use in pregnancy in the United States from 2006 to 2011 among women with private insurance 
Psychiatric disorders are equally common during pregnancy as among non-pregnant women, and many of these conditions are treated with psychotropic medicines. Relatively little is known about patterns of use of many these agents during pregnancy, and specifically of how rates may have shifted during the last decade. We aimed to quantify the rate of pregnancy related exposures to categories of psychotropic medicines stratified according to the primary indication for use (antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, and psychostimulants), trimester of pregnancy, trends over time and region, and indication for use.
We conducted a retrospective cohort study of pregnancies among women in the Truven Health MarketScan database (source population 70 million Americans), which captures person-specific clinical use and includes detailed information on filled prescriptions, hospitalizations and outpatient visits for all privately insured employees and their dependents. We classified psychotropic medicines of interest using ATC level 3 accordingly: antipsychotics (N05A); anxiolytics (N05B); antidepressants (N06A); psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and cognitive enhancement (N06B). We also examined temporal and regional trends in use.
We included 343,299 women who had a live birth between Jan 1, 2006 and Dec 31, 2011, of whom 10.3% were dispensed one or more psychotropic medicines during pregnancy. This rate varied from 6% to 15% between states. The rate of use of psychotropic medicines was relatively stable between 2006 and 2011. The most commonly used psychotropic medicines were selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (5.1%) and benzodiazepine or benzodiazepine-like medicines (3.9%). Among psychotropic users, the most commonly associated psychiatric diagnosis was depression (25.0%), followed by anxiety disorders (24.4%). Approximately 1.6% of women used more than one category of psychotropic medicine in pregnancy, most commonly an antidepressant and an anxiolytic medicine (1.2%).
Given this relatively high rate of use, the lack of evidence that the most frequently used medications improve birth outcomes and the safety concerns associated with both early and late pregnancy use for many frequently-used medications, there is a need for further study of factors driving psychotropic medication use during pregnancy.
PMCID: PMC4223368  PMID: 25048574
Pregnancy; Prescription drugs; Psychiatric conditions in pregnancy; Psychotropic medicines; Administrative data; Depression; Anxiety
4.  Too Few, Too Weak: Conflict of Interest Policies at Canadian Medical Schools 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68633.
The education of medical students should be based on the best clinical information available, rather than on commercial interests. Previous research looking at university-wide conflict of interest (COI) policies used in Canadian medical schools has shown very poor regulation. An analysis of COI policies was undertaken to document the current policy environment in all 17 Canadian medical schools.
A web search was used to initially locate COI policies supplemented by additional information from the deans of each medical school. Strength of policies was rated on a scale of 0 to 2 in 12 categories and also on the presence of enforcement measures. For each school, we report scores for all 12 categories, enforcement measures, and summative scores.
COI policies received summative scores that ranged from 0 to 19, with 0 the lowest possible score obtainable and 24 the maximum. The highest mean scores per category were for disclosure and ghostwriting (0.9) and for gifts and scholarships (0.8).
This study provides the first comprehensive evaluation of all 17 Canadian medical school-specific COI policies. Our results suggest that the COI policy environment at Canadian medical schools is generally permissive. Policy development is a dynamic process. We therefore encourage all Canadian medical schools to develop restrictive COI policies to ensure that their medical students are educated based on the best clinical evidence available, free of industry biases and COI relationships that may influence the future medical thinking and prescribing practices of medical students in Canada once they graduate.
PMCID: PMC3701639  PMID: 23861928
7.  Antidepressants and pregnancy 
PMCID: PMC3060191  PMID: 21422144
8.  Pfizer conducts survey of French patients on information provided by industry 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2007;334(7602):1027.
PMCID: PMC1871796  PMID: 17510132
9.  Should patient groups accept money from drug companies? No 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2007;334(7600):935.
Patient groups provide valuable support and advocacy for vulnerable people but funding the work can be difficult. Alastair Kent argues that not accepting industry money will unnecessarily limit the groups' effectiveness, but Barbara Mintzes believes that the money undermines their independence
PMCID: PMC1865416  PMID: 17478846
10.  Twelve Years' Experience with Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs in Canada: A Cautionary Tale 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(5):e5699.
Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs is illegal in Canada as a health protection measure, but is permitted in the United States. However, in 2000, Canadian policy was changed to allow ‘reminder’ advertising of prescription drugs. This is a form of advertising that states the brand name without health claims. ‘Reminder’ advertising is prohibited in the US for drugs that have ‘black box’ warnings of serious risks. This study examines spending on DTCA in Canada from 1995 to 2006, 12 years spanning this policy shift. We ask how annual per capita spending compares to that in the US, and whether drugs with Canadian or US regulatory safety warnings are advertised to the Canadian public in reminder advertising.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Prescription drug advertising spending data were extracted from a data set on health sector spending in Canada obtained from a market research company, TNS Media Inc. Spending was adjusted for inflation and compared with US spending. Inflation-adjusted spending on branded DTCA in Canada grew from under CAD$2 million per year before 1999 to over $22 million in 2006. The major growth was in broadcast advertising, accounting for 83% of spending in 2006. US annual per capita spending was on average 24 times Canadian levels. Celebrex (celecoxib), which has a US black box and was subject to three safety advisories in Canada, was the most heavily advertised drug on Canadian television in 2005 and 2006. Of 8 brands with >$500,000 spending, which together accounted for 59% of branded DTCA in all media, 6 were subject to Canadian safety advisories, and 4 had US black box warnings.
Branded ‘reminder’ advertising has grown rapidly in Canada since 2000, mainly due to a growth in television advertising. Although DTCA spending per capita is much lower in Canada than in the US, there is no evidence of safer content or product choice; many heavily-advertised drugs in Canada have been subject to safety advisories. For governments searching for compromise solutions to industry pressure for expanded advertising, Canada's experience stands as a stark warning.
PMCID: PMC2682647  PMID: 19479084
13.  Medications for obesity 
Canadian Family Physician  2008;54(6):848-849.
PMCID: PMC2426986  PMID: 18556487
14.  Questions about Adderall XR 
PMCID: PMC1435951  PMID: 16636331
15.  Disease Mongering in Drug Promotion: Do Governments Have a Regulatory Role? 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(4):e198.
Most regulatory agencies, says Mintzes, fail to treat regulation of drug promotion as a public health concern. Unless this changes, she says, the public can expect more unfettered disease mongering.
PMCID: PMC1434509  PMID: 16597181
17.  Summary Basis of Decision in context 
PMCID: PMC1150238
19.  Transparency in drug regulation: Mirage or oasis? 
PMCID: PMC527339  PMID: 15557590
20.  SSRI treatment for under-18s 
PMCID: PMC419744
24.  How does direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) affect prescribing? A survey in primary care environments with and without legal DTCA  
Direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs has increased rapidly in the United States during the last decade, yet little is known about its effects on prescribing decisions in primary care. We compared prescribing decisions in a US setting with legal DTCA and a Canadian setting where DTCA of prescription drugs is illegal, but some cross-border exposure occurs.
We recruited primary care physicians working in Sacramento, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and their group practice partners to participate in the study. On pre- selected days, patients aged 18 years or more completed a questionnaire before seeing their physician. We asked these patients' physicians to complete a brief questionnaire immediately following the selected patient visit. By pairing individual patient and physician responses, we determined how many patients had been exposed to some form of DTCA, the frequency of patients' requests for prescriptions for advertised medicines and the frequency of prescriptions that were stimulated by the patients' requests. We measured physicians' confidence in treatment choice for each new prescription by asking them whether they would prescribe this drug to a patient with the same condition.
Seventy-eight physicians (Sacramento n = 38, Vancouver n = 40) and 1431 adult patients (Sacramento n = 683, Vancouver n = 748), or 61% of patients who consulted participating physicians on pre-set days, participated in the survey. Exposure to DTCA was higher in Sacramento, although 87.4% of Vancouver patients had seen prescription drug advertisements. Of the Sacramento patients, 7.2% requested advertised drugs as opposed to 3.3% in Vancouver (odds ratio [OR] 2.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2–4.1). Patients with higher self- reported exposure to advertising, conditions that were potentially treatable by advertised drugs, and/or greater reliance on advertising requested more advertised medicines. Physicians fulfilled most requests for DTCA drugs (for 72% of patients in Vancouver and 78% in Sacramento); this difference was not statistically significant. Patients who requested DTCA drugs were much more likely to receive 1 or more new prescriptions (for requested drugs or alternatives) than those who did not request DTCA drugs (OR 16.9, 95% CI 7.5–38.2). Physicians judged 50.0% of new prescriptions for requested DTCA drugs to be only “possible” or “unlikely” choices for other similar patients, as compared with 12.4% of new prescriptions not requested by patients (p < 0.001).
Our results suggest that more advertising leads to more requests for advertised medicines, and more prescriptions. If DTCA opens a conversation between patients and physicians, that conversation is highly likely to end with a prescription, often despite physician ambivalence about treatment choice.
PMCID: PMC183290  PMID: 12952801
25.  Drugs in the news: an analysis of Canadian newspaper coverage of new prescription drugs 
Patients routinely cite the media, after physicians and pharmacists, as a key source of information on new drugs, but there has been little research on the quality of drug information presented. We assessed newspaper descriptions of drug benefits and harms, the nature of the effects described and the presence or absence of other important information that can add context and balance to a report about a new drug.
We looked at newspaper coverage in the year 2000 of 5 prescription drugs launched in Canada between 1996 and 2001 that received a high degree of media attention: atorvastatin, celecoxib, donepezil, oseltamivir and raloxifene. We searched 24 of Canada's largest daily newspapers for articles reporting at least one benefit or harm of any of these 5 drugs. We recorded the benefits and harms reported and analyzed how such information was presented; we also determined whether clinical or surrogate outcomes were mentioned; if and how drug effects were quantified; whether contraindications, other treatment options and costs were mentioned; and whether any information on affiliations of quoted interviewees and potential conflicts of interest was presented.
Our search yielded 193 articles reporting at least one benefit or harm for 1 of the 5 drugs. All of the articles mentioned at least one benefit, but 68% (132/193) made no mention of possible side effects or harms. Only 24% (120/510) of mentions of drug benefits and harms presented quantitative information. In 26% (31/120) of cases in which drug benefits and harms were quantified, the magnitude was presented only in relative terms, which can be misleading. Overall, 62% (119/193) of the articles gave no quantification of the benefits or harms. Thirty-seven (19%) of the 193 articles reported only surrogate benefits. Other information needed for informed drug-related decisions was often lacking: only 7 (4%) of the articles mentioned contraindications, 61 (32%) mentioned drug costs, 89 (46%) mentioned drug alternatives, and 30 (16%) mentioned nondrug treatment options (such as exercise or diet). Sixty-two percent (120/193) of the articles quoted at least one interviewee. After exclusion of industry and government spokespeople, for only 3% (5/164) of interviewees was there any mention of potential financial conflicts of interest. Twenty-six percent (15/57) of the articles discussing a study included information on study funding.
Our results raise concerns about the completeness and quality of media reporting about new medications.
PMCID: PMC153682  PMID: 12719316

Results 1-25 (28)