Pharmaceutical companies are regularly breaching industry codes of conduct in their promotion and advertising of their drugs in Europe, according to a study in PLoS Medicine.
“In many European countries, medicines promotion is governed by voluntary codes of practice administered by the pharmaceutical industry under its own system of self-regulation,” stated the Swedish research team. “Involvement of industry organizations in policing promotion has been proposed to deter illicit conduct, but few detailed studies on self-regulation have been carried out to date. The objective of this study was to examine the evidence for promotion and self-regulation in the UK and Sweden, two countries frequently cited as examples of effective self-regulation.”
The researchers analyzed the codes of conduct in the countries, and also gathered data from self-regulatory bodies on “complaints, complainants, and rulings for the period 2004–2012.”
They found hundreds of breaches — many identified as “very serious” — averaging about one per week in both countries. Breaches involved issues such as misleading claims about drugs, promotion of drugs for unapproved uses, and failure to comply with orders to comply.
“The prevalence and severity of breaches testifies to a discrepancy between the ethical standard codified in industry Codes of Conduct and the actual conduct of the industry,” concluded the researchers.
Zetterqvist, Anna V., Juan Merlo, and Shai Mulinari. “Complaints, Complainants, and Rulings Regarding Drug Promotion in the United Kingdom and Sweden 2004–2012: A Quantitative and Qualitative Study of Pharmaceutical Industry Self-Regulation.” PLoS Med 12, no. 2 (February 17, 2015): e1001785. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001785. (Abstract and full text)