I first became aware of this fascinating youtube video, "Zyprexa Sales Rep," thanks to an email from the indefatigable Vera Sharav, whose organization, Alliance for Human Research Protection, has both a website and a blog, dedicated to making sure that human research subjects are treated ethically, and that the risks they are subjected to are minimized. About this Zyprexa video, Ms. Sharav wrote: “On December 18, 2006, when the second front page news report about Eli Lilly's concealed documents ran in The New York Times, "Zyprexa Sales Rep" was posted on YouTube by a group of physicians, PharmedOut.
PharmedOut, the group that posted the video, is dedicated to making the public aware of how pharmaceutical companies influence which medications doctors prescribe. Since so much of what physicians learn about medications comes from the pharmaceutical companies themselves, both through their “educational programs” and their company sales reps, PharmedOut aims to “increase access to unbiased information about drugs, and to encourage physicians to choose pharma-free CME [Continuing Medical Education.]” It is an organization worth learning about.
This youtube video is fascinating. In it, former Eli Lilly drug rep, Shahram Ahari, who worked for the company until 2000, tells how he and the other drug reps were instructed by their employer to downplay the side effects of the antipsychotic drug, Zyprexa. The side effects -- which include quick weight gain, leading to obesity and associated diabetes -- were serious and many psychiatrists and patients were worried. When these psychiatrists shared their concerns with Ahari and the other reps, they were told to downplay the side effects of the drug, while focusing on its efficacy. One recommendation was to tell patients to drink a glass of water before and during each meal so that their stomachs would expand and they wouldn't be as hungry! The idea was to stress to doctors that keeping their patients' symptoms (of psychosis) under control was more important than staying thin.
The reps were also taught how to manipulate statistics in a way that was favorable to their drug. One of my favorite quotes in this video comes from Ahari’s statistics professor: “Statistics are like prisoners. Torture them long enough and they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear.” Ahari believes that Eli Lilly did a cost benefit analysis, and decided to hold off admitting the truth about Zyprexa, so that they could earn lots of money in the meantime, before the repercussions finally surfaced.