Charles Gibson, ABC News
On THE MONEY TRAIL tonight, we look at how and why doctors
choose specific drugs for their patients. An overwhelming
majority of doctors simply choose the drug they think will
work best. But the US Attorney in Boston is investigating a
case in which it is alleged one drug company helped doctors
make huge profits if those doctors would prescribe the company’s
drug. Here’s ABC’s chief investigative correspondent,
BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS
(VO) This Lewiston, Maine, urologist is one of four doctors
indicted in a sweeping federal investigation of how a major
pharmaceutical company allegedly offered big money to get
doctors to prescribe a cancer drug called Lupron.
(OC) Can we talk to you just for a second about…
DR. JOEL OLSTEIN
(PH) Well, I really don’t think so.
(VO) According to the indictment, Dr. Joel Olstein, who
says he is cooperating with authorities, made tens of
thousands of dollars by taking free samples from drug company
representatives and then billing insurance companies and
Medicare for the full price. And according to authorities, it
was all part of a campaign by the makers of Lupron to get
doctors to prescribe the effective but costly prostate cancer
drug instead of its less expensive competitor.
DR. GERALD WEISBERG
It’s bothersome to the extent that therapeutic decisions
could be influenced by personal financial gain.
(VO) The scheme was presented to thousands of doctors
across the country, according to Dr. Gerald Weisberg. He’s
the former head of clinical research for Lupron at the TAP
Pharmaceutical Company in suburban Chicago, and has told
federal authorities that the company concluded that many
doctors cared as much about profit as they did about how good
the drug was.
It was a pitch made on financial gain for physicians.
And that was widespread?
We are talking about schemes clearly implemented through
the efforts of persons in the TAP home office and then given
to the people out in the field.
(VO) Company officials say Dr. Weisberg is a disgruntled
employee who was fired. But internal company documents
obtained by ABC News reveal the kind of pitch the company made
to doctors, including something called the Lupron Checkbook.
It was designed to show doctors how they could make huge
profits by purchasing Lupron at substantial discounts and
billing health insurers for them at the full price, a secret
arrangement the patients were never intended to know.
DR. ARNOLD RELMAN, Harvard Medical School
And what it says is, "Doctor, how much do I have to
give you in order to persuade you that my drug or my treatment
is better than the other fellow’s drug or – or better than
no drug at all?"
The Lupron investigation is a case that has closely been
watched and it may reveal a great deal about how big drug
company tactics can drive up prices and influence medical
judgments. Brian Ross, ABC News, New York.