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Sunday, June 3, 2007

It was all about money: Drug company incentive payments

David Olson was suicidal, in a hospital. His psychiatrist tried repeatedly to recruit him into clinical trials of a new drug. Indeed, drug companies paid his doctor thousands of dollars for each patient the doctor recruited. But David refused to be a test subject. His doctor discharged him from the hospital. David committed suicide two weeks later.

The state medical board found the doctor had “failed to appreciate the risks of taking Patient 46 off Clozaril, failed to respond appropriately to the patient’s rapid deterioration and virtually ignored the patient’s suicidality.”

David sister, Susie Olson, said the doctor “had no time for my brother unless David agreed to get into a drug study. He said, ‘You’re wasting my time and the hospital’s.’ It was all about money.”

This doctor was not a marginalized “bad apple.” He was the president of the Minnesota Psychiatric Society. Many other disciplined doctors also received thousands of dollars from drug companies. An analysis reported by Gardiner Harris and Janet Roberts in today’s New York Times found the drug makers gave a total of $1.7 million to 103 Minnesota doctors who had been formally disciplined by the state medical board, over the period from 1997 to 2005.

Advice: Before choosing a new doctor, ask the office manager if the doctor accepts money from drug companies.

Read another of our Minnesota stories on this topic.

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