09/07/2011 - Livingston respiratory specialist Anthony Gagliardi was paid nearly $40,000 by the drug company Merck last year to speak to other medical professionals around the country about conditions treated by one of its top-selling medicines.
Gagliardi, who is considered an expert in pulmonary care, spoke at least 13 times in 2010 at meetings in Connecticut, New York and California. In Atlantic City, he once gave a talk about motivating patients to manage their asthma, but Merck’s asthma medicine, Singulair, was never mentioned during the talk, he said.
"I would never speak for the company if I thought my role was promoting a drug,’’ said Gagliardi, who chairs the department of internal medicine at St. Barnabas Medical Center. "That’s why companies have drug representatives.’’
"That’s different from pharma employing doctors to provide medical education to the health care community,’’ he said.
While there is nothing illegal about the extra paycheck Gagliardi receives from Merck, the pharmaceutical industry’s practice of paying physicians for meals, speaking engagements and consulting has been criticized for years as a possible ethical problem for doctors.
In 2010, 11 drug makers, including New Jersey-based Merck and Johnson & Johnson, paid out more than $446 million to doctors across the country, according to the news organization ProPublica. Collectively, thousands of physicians in New Jersey received $12.4 million from the companies. In California, the drug makers doled out $53.5 million to physicians and $36.7 million to doctors in New York, ProPublica’s analysis showed.
"All the questions that have been raised over the years still remain,’’ said Allan Coukell, director of medical programs at Pew Health Group in Washington D.C. "We absolutely think if a physician finds it useful to talk to companies about their products they should do that. The problem is when those talks are associated with a gift or pay of some kind.’’
Read the full article Drug Firms Paid N.J. Doctors $12.4 million in 2010 on the Star-Leger's Web site.