Psychiatry, Pharmaceutical Funding, and Congress

This item comes more from the category of history-in-the-making, rather than history proper.

The New York Times has just published an article on just how extensive the financial ties are between the pharmaceutical industry and the American Psychiatric Association (APA). According to the article, nearly 1/3 of the APA’s budget comes directly from the pharmaceutical industry, in the form of journal ads, convention exhibits, and the sponsoring of fellowships, conferences, and symposia. It also notes that psychiatrists have the lowest base income of any medical specialists, but many supplement their income by giving pharmaceutical industry-sponsored lectures for as much as $3000 per event. The article also reveals that the current president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association has a nearly-$5 million stake in a drug development company, and he defends the close relationship, claiming that limiting it, ““will mean less opportunities to help patients with severe illnesses.”

The APA is the leading professional and scientific society for psychiatrists, the leading publisher of psychiatric journals, and publisher of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of psychiatric disorders. In short, it has a profound impact on the treatment of sufferers of mental illness in North America.

But the extent of the monetary links between the APA and the pharmaceutical industry has led many to suspect that the latter has undue influence on what is supposed to be the independent scientific judgment of the former. According to the Times article,

now the profession itself is under attack in Congress, accused of allowing this relationship to become too cozy. After a series of stinging investigations of individual doctors’ arrangements with drug makers, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is demanding that the American Psychiatric Association, the field’s premier professional organization, give an accounting of its financing…. “I have come to understand that money from the pharmaceutical industry can shape the practices of nonprofit organizations that purport to be independent in their viewpoints and actions,” Mr. Grassley said Thursday in a letter to the association.

The APA’s Board is in conclave in Chicago this weekend, developing a response.

The article closes with:

“I think we may be coming to a point where hospitals and medical schools have to get serious about sanctioning,” said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, director of the division of psychiatry, medicine and the law at Columbia. “You can suspend doctors’ privileges, or suspend their right to treat patients; both have a huge impact on income and career. But if you’re serious about these disclosure policies, you have to be willing to back them up.”

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About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

5 thoughts on “Psychiatry, Pharmaceutical Funding, and Congress

  1. Mind Hacks has put me on to an October 2006 article in New Scientist in which an associate editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association claimed that “some patient groups are perilously close to becoming extensions of pharmaceutical companies’ marketing departments…. Rather than grassroots, the word Rennie uses to describe such organisations is ‘astroturf’. Originating in the black arts of politics and public relations, astroturfing is the practice of disguising an orchestrated campaign as a spontaneous upwelling of public opinion.” You can find the original article here:
    http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/mg19225755.100-patient-groups-special-swallowing-the-best-advice.html
    and Mind Hacks mention of it here: http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2008/07/psychiatrists_assoc.html

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