Drug Firm Hired Athletes to Draw Doctors

Another scheme of gift-giving to doctors recently came to light when one of the nation's largest drug manufacturers reportedly used a group of professional athletes to lure doctors to dinners where pharmaceutical companies could pitch their products.

A new report by the Washington Times shows that Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp. paid more than $3.6 million in fees to top sports figures such as New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Baseball Hall-of-famer Bob Gibson between 2006 and 2009. The athletes were expected to attend Novartis-sponsored events, give short speeches, and pose for individual photos with doctors. The pharmaceutical company's marketing representatives would later bring the photos to call on doctors to sell their products.

The report cited Paul Thacker, an investigator for nonpartisan watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, who said, "If you shove a bag of cash in a doctor's pocket, he might feel like a common streetwalker, but if you give him a picture of his childhood idol, then he might feel like everyone is just being pals." Thacker said the company's primary goal was to push for more prescriptions.

Novartis recently agreed to pay $422 million to settle criminal charges and civil claims that it illegally marketed one of its top-selling drugs, Trileptal, for unapproved uses along with kickback claims.

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