Pharmaceutical companies say they hire highly respected doctors as their white-coat sales force, peddling their drugs to other physicians. But a Pro Publica investigation has discovered that hundreds of these pitchmen have been accused of professional misconduct, been disciplined by state boards, or lacked credentials. Medical board records in the 15 most populous states revealed that more than 250 had been sanctioned, another 40 given FDA warnings for research lapses, and 20 more hit with successful malpractice lawsuits. Some have even lost their licenses.
One of Cephalon’s highest paid doctors, for example, was once fired for giving female patients unnecessary vaginal exams. When confronted he said, “Maybe I am a pervert, I honestly don’t know.” The Ohio medical board, meanwhile, disciplined a top Eli Lilly pitchman for performing “an excessive number of invasive procedures.” Of the seven companies ProPublica targeted—AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. and Pfizer, plus the aforementioned Cephalon and Eli Lilly—five admitted they didn’t check state boards for such blemishes, instead trusting doctors to self-report.