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Eli Lilly - Renounce Unethical Marketing Practices
2002-07-16, 12:00 p.m.

Last month, several dozen Florida residents found a dangerous surprise in their mailboxes -- free samples of the powerful anti-depressant drug, Prozac. The recipients of the drug appear to have been targeted by drug maker Eli Lilly based on information in their medical records that indicated they, at some time, had been prescribed an anti-depressant. Many of the facts are not yet in, but one thing is clear -- although especially appalling, this incident is simply a more aggressive version of the direct marketing of drugs to consumers and not something truly different.

Until a few years ago, drug companies were not allowed to advertise or market their products directly to individuals -- only to doctors and hospitals. While this led to many pleasant junket vacations for doctors, it kept medical professionals in the position of evaluating drug alternatives.

But drug companies wanted to market Prozac like Coca Cola, and after much lobbying and campaign contributions, were allowed to begin marketing directly to consumers. Now, drug advertising is the fastest growing form of advertising (highly valued in a recession), complete with television and magazine ads, coupons for free samples, and even pills mailed direct to you without any form of request or diagnosis.

The intent of this marketing is simple -- to get individuals to ask their doctors for particular name brand drugs for whatever ails them. This cuts the doctor’s recommendation out of the process and has been highly successful.

Why might Lilly have engaged in this kind of super-aggressive marketing? Most likely because their patent has run out on Prozac and generic alternatives are severely hurting the drug's sales and Lilly's profits.

Outrage at this extreme violation of privacy, not to mention the safety concerns raised by mailing unsolicited drugs, has prompted an apology from Lilly. However, the real outrage should be that these practices might be legal! Lilly has not renounced the practice of using a patient's private medical records to market its drugs. It should do so, and halt all consumer marketing until it can create a code of ethics to prevent any such practices in the future.

Tell Eli Lilly CEO, Sidney Taurel, that examining patients' medical records is an invasion of privacy and the drug company should immediately cease all such dangerous and unethical marketing practices.

It is also extremely dangerous to send people prescription drugs when you don't know what else they might be taking. Anti-depressants are not candy, and only a doctor should prescribe them - not a drug company marketing department.

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