Anthony Fleg on PharmFree | Q&A | Indy Week
Pin It

Anthony Fleg on PharmFree 

click to enlarge q_a.jpg

You won't find a Zoloft pen in Anthony Fleg's shirt pocket, or a Vitorin mug on his desk. A fourth-year medical student at UNC-Chapel Hill, Fleg testified last month before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee about drug companies' influence on doctors—$7 billion annually in free meals, tchotchkes, drug samples and advertising—and its negative impact on the practice of medicine. He asked lawmakers to support the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which would require medical practitioners, including medical school professors, to publicly disclose their financial connections with the pharmaceutical industry.

Fleg, the American Medical Student Association's national PharmFree coordinator, plans to practice family medicine. "I have a real love for taking care of patients and a desire to protect the sacred trust physicians and patients once shared—and that can be restored."

The AMSA is also grading medical schools on their conflicts of interest involving drug companies. UNC received a C-minus; it is discussing forming a policy restricting drug reps' access to campus, but hasn't done so. Duke received a B for establishing some guidelines on access to the Academic Medical Center, but hasn't extended that practice to the medical school.

To read about the campaign and the scorecard go to www.pharmfree.org and www.amsa.org.

When did the backlash start? What was the catalyst?

The AMSA was the first national medical association to completely say no to any funding or scholarships from drug companies in 2002. It will take a change in medical education itself to get students to start pushing schools to address this issue.

What's the atmosphere like at UNC in terms of students' exposure to the drug lobby?

You have medical students being taught the ethics of medicine, and then we see the opposite being practiced. We're required to go against the people grading us.

I think at a minimum, we should be told when lunches are provided by drug companies. Our internal medicine department receives nice boxed lunches every day. I asked where the lunches were coming from—it wasn't disclosed—and they were sponsored by a drug company. It wasn't presented in a "decide for yourself" manner, but that "we don't think this is a big enough issue to tell students."

What's the response been to your campaign?

There's a percentage of medical students who think this is a radical idea. They don't think it's a big issue, even though the evidence shows that any gift, large or small, influences physicians. One percent of physicians surveyed said they weren't influenced by gifts from drug companies, but 40 percent said that other doctors are.

How has the drug companies' influence over doctors affected public health policy?

They're trying to get physicians to prescribe drugs, and it's not too big of a stretch to see we have an overmedication problem. Physicians prescribe antibiotics when there is no evidence that we should. We treat everything that comes in with a pill. It leads away from prevention. Patients and doctors are inundated with messages: "Ask your doctor," or "Prescribe this." It pushes aside what people should do to stay healthy.

And in a global context, in one part of the world we're overmedicated and other parts are undermedicated. We can get more than enough Viagra, but people in Zimbabwe can't get medicine for HIV.

How can you know if your doctor has an unhealthy relationship with his or her drug sales rep?

When you see a doctor, he or she doesn't come into the room and say, "Here are the 10 drug reps I've seen in last 48 hours." Patients should feel the right to directly ask their doctor whether they take money or gifts from drug companies. Or ask their surgeon, "Before I pay $50,000 for the piece of metal you're putting in me, how much did you get from the device manufacturer? Are you the person who developed it? How many people have it in them?" That's a whole other avenue where the culture of medicine will change, that we can't hide what we're doing anymore. You shouldn't be ashamed to consider choosing a doctor on this issue.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Q&A

  • WikiLeaks and the right to know

    We spoke with UNC Associate Professor of Journalism Lois Boynton, a fellow at the University's Parr Center for Ethics, about WikiLeaks
    • Dec 22, 2010
  • Scott Horton

    Scott Horton

    Torture, not suicide, may have killed Guantánamo prisoners.
    • Apr 7, 2010
  • Gerald Grant on Wake's school success

    Gerald Grant on Wake's school success

    It was the 1976 decision by Raleigh and Wake County to merge and then establish the policy that every school would be racially balanced that made Raleigh the "hope" of other American cities.
    • May 20, 2009
  • More »


Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

i was wanting to know if diebetes or omeprazole can cause a false reading for thc and are there any …

by rooster50 on Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General (Q&A)

Isn't the policy of UNC NOT to allow freedom of association repressive?As a white male can I be allowed to …

by ROBO14 on Riley Matheson, UNC's Youth for Western Civilization (Q&A)

To above: But what good is liberty without the material and social resources one needs in order to *exercise* that …

by drewk on Gerald Grant on Wake's school success (Q&A)

I was unimpressed by the yearly move of students from one school to another. That was unnecessary, to my untrained …

by debbilh on Gerald Grant on Wake's school success (Q&A)

I think what's astonishing is that Gerald Grant is clueless.

by ammcat on Gerald Grant on Wake's school success (Q&A)

Comments

i was wanting to know if diebetes or omeprazole can cause a false reading for thc and are there any …

by rooster50 on Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General (Q&A)

Isn't the policy of UNC NOT to allow freedom of association repressive?As a white male can I be allowed to …

by ROBO14 on Riley Matheson, UNC's Youth for Western Civilization (Q&A)

Most Read

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation