Harvard Psychiatrists: Disciplined Over Pharma Payments

Three prominent Harvard Psychiatrists – who are well known researchers in the field of ADHD have been disciplined over a failure to disclose their drug company ties. In reading a news article here, it is described that these physicians did not adequately disclose payments they received from pharma companies to: Harvard, MGH (Mass. General Hospital) and the federal government. Apparently new requirements came into effect in 2010 with the federal Physicians Payment Sunshine Act of 2010.

These three doctors: Dr. Biederman, Dr. Wilens and Dr. Spencer are very well published, very intelligent, and they make huge scientific contributions to the field of ADHD, as well as children’s mental health as a whole. I have personally attended several continuing medical education events where they have spoken, and I have found their material to have been of top quality and very helpful. Was it biased? In my experience – no. I found these doctors presented the science (which included their own research, as well as summarizing the research of many other doctors as well) in a balanced and useful way.

Apparently, the doctors wrote a ‘dear colleagues’ letter. It is quoted as saying:

“Our mistakes were honest ones. We always believed that we were complying in good faith with institutional policies. We now recognize that we should have devoted more time and attention to the detailed requirements of these policies and to their underlying objectives.”

While this is an unfortunate series of events – I still do hold these doctors in high esteem. They have contributed a lot of science to the field. The reality at this time is that the pharmaceutical companies fund research, and they support educational events. Although some may aspire to not have them support these events (to avoid biases), there are many ‘checks and balances’ in place, and the reality is that there are few other sources of funding to support major conferences and educational events.

Will I disregard the doctors’ research because of this?

Absolutely not.

Their research stands on its own merit. These doctors were not disciplined on any academic issues – rather on reporting funding.

I am sorry to hear that Drs. Biederman, Spencer and Wilens have had this trouble. I wish them well, and I look forward to reading their future research.

Are you concerned with pharma company’s influence on doctors, research and healthcare as a whole?

Please comment below.

Dr. Kenny

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  1. I know of all 3 of these doctors since I specialize in treating ADHD and have personally talked with 2 of them. They are widely read and listened to in the ADHD field. They are outstanding doctors making huge contributions to ADHD and they would not be able to do their work without research funding from drug companies. This law was passed by busy-body congressmen who happened to seize upon this issue because apparently there were no other pressing problems in the US to focus on that week. I wonder if the law they ‘broke’ is even constitutional. At any rate I have never attended drug industry sponsored talks by experts that I can remember feeling were biased towards the sponsor. In fact oftentimes the talks are simply about the condition being treated and very little about the drugs used to treat them. Frequently I have to look at the invitation to figure out who sponsored the talk because it isn’t obvious from the speaker.

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