Pharma McCarthyism OpEd by John Mack

The pharma industry yearns to be treated like any other industry. Regulated, yes, but not always having to defend business practices that every other industry — including regulated ones — commonly engage in. Like taking clients out to lunch or helping them succeed. One hand greases the other as they say.

Pharma also likes to blame “critics” for making mountains out of mole hills — the hullabaloo over gifts to physicians is an example. Pharma industry defenders also try to pigeon hole some critics further by characterizing them as “Ivory Tower academics” who live in a “socialistic fantasy world.” The authors of a recent JAMA article, who called for a ban on pharma gifts to physicians, would be examples of the latter (see “Free Gifts to Physicians: What’s the Big Deal?“). You also might hear other derogatory or pejorative terms like “special interest groups” and, my favorite, “anti-industry activists.”

I am not making these terms up. I hear them all the time on the PHARMA-MKTING listserv and at industry meetings. Maybe they are not used in press releases or in polite conversations, but I hear them often enough — too often, actually!

Sometimes I worry that someone will apply one of these terms to me! “Mr. Mack, are you or have you ever been an anti-industry activist?”

On the other hand, I am hard-pressed to recall similar terms applied to industry defenders. There are several terms that could be adopted from other heated debates, such as “industry apologists,” “lackeys,” or “Evil Empire storm troopers.”

Maybe there are industry critics out there that do use pejorative terms against the other side, but you won’t find me using them.

[OK, I once published a story entitled “Marketing the Pharma Industry: The Empire Strikes Back.” But that was a contributed piece written by an industry defender, not a critic. The title was a sendup on the Star Wars trilogy and not derogatory at all (“Evil Empire” was not used!).]

But who are these “critics,” “socialistic academicians,” “anti-industry activists,” et al?

Aren’t they pharma’s customers? You know, patients and physicians? Yes, they have “interest groups” that represent them, but so does the pharmaceutical industry (they’re called trade associations and lobbyists).

Despite wishing to be like other industries, pharma is unlike almost every other industry in that its customers are rebelling against it!

Pharma is fighting back, which is fine. But let’s respect each other, starting with losing the labels that disparage our adversaries. By doing so, we may find that the other person has valid points and we might just learn something.

Good Night and Good Luck!

Issue: Vol. 5, No.2: February 2006

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