Sunday, 1 February 2009

Drug Company or Drug Dealer?

The UK Government are drawing attention to the way in which Drug Company representatives are taking advantage of Doctors by offering 'gifts' as incentives or 'thankyou's' for placing an order. In her recent article Call for end to drug firms' gifts Jane Dreaper reveals how drug companies are enticing Doctors to try their drugs by offering a gift

Where exactly is the difference between this behaviour and the behaviour of street drug pushers?

At the moment the industry code of practice allows:

"drug companies to give small promotional gifts that are relevant to doctors' work, such as pens or surgical gloves."

Just how gullible is the industry?? Have they not read anything of Robert Cialdini's work in influence and persuasion? it is precisely because the gifts are small that they have so much persuasive power!!

The Drug companies are sophisticated commercial enterprises who are clearly familiar with marketing and selling methods. What these small gifts do is tap into a phenomenon known as Reciprocation. This works because no matter how small the gift we feel morally compelled to 'repay the favour' as a way of achieving psychological balance. Not only that once a person has agreed to a small request, they are much more likely to be predisposed to 'up-selling'.Its the same approach that supermarkets use when offering 'taster' samples, or charities do when they send a pen with a donation request. Give somebody an unsolicted gift and they are strongly compelled to return the favour. Do it to enough people and even a small percentage of 'takers' dramatically affects the bottom line.

The real bonus is that the Drug Company sales people are dealing with Doctors. Highly trained professionals such as medical people, accountants, solicitors etc have a well developed sense of their ability to be in control of their decision making. They believe it is impossible for them to be taken advantage of. Chris Argyris covers this in a fascinating Harvard Business Review article called Teaching Smart People How To Learn In the article Argyris explains that professionals firmly believe they are more astute and aware than the average Joe or Josephine and are simply resistant to being duped. They believe they are cognitively 'in control' of the situation and are too smart to be affected by mere sales ploys.

What they underestimate is the emotional, sub conscious effect of techniques such as giving a small gift. Just like the street drug user, they think that they are the one's in control, believing that trying 'just a small amount' keeps them in control. Don't be daft! as soon as you try the sample, accept the freebie you're hooked!

Dr Carol Cooper told the BBC that doctors were professionals and unlikely to be unduly influenced by the drug companies.Accept a small gift and as medical practioners will understand, you take the first step on the 'addiction career path'...Oh dear Carol...they've got you!!!


  1. Big Pharma supplies more than 'small gifts.' Many physicians receive gifts that include air fare travel and the best lodge arrangements. Besides that, physicians are offered in-house stocks.

    We're in the wrong business, RR.
    Signed by,
    An Addiction Treatment Specialist

  2. This is a very serious issue... If any doctor prescribes new drug which is not tested.. it may end up life of the victim...