You'll Never See Prescription Drugs the Same After This!

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Interviewer: Can you talk about some of the things that you saw either in hospitals? I know part of your book deals with the nursing homes. Things that you saw that led to this cumulative effect where you finally got the knowledge to come out.

 Interviewee: Right.  I mean it wasn't like I woke up one morning and I said,"Oh, this is a horrible industry, and I've got to get out." It was a series of events that took place over time, and like I said, my getting my own education.  The information that the company was giving me; sometimes my critically intelligent questions weren't answered properly. I had to go do my own due diligence to get those questions answered. When you do your own due diligence, you start to find out, hmm, they're not telling me everything I need to know.

 One of those things that I was aware of very early in my career was I had a physician that I was calling on. He was an elderly physician. I had a new product that had just come out. It was my first new product, which is very exciting because you go to these national meetings with all this hoopla,and the banquets, and the wonderful entertainment nightly, and bags of goodies in your room when you get back, ball caps and that sort of thing.  It's always big.  Pharma does everything first class.

 I was very excited because I had gone to this meeting, and I had listened to the doctors and the CEOs and everyone talking. I'd rubbed shoulders, andI just thought this drug was going to be the best thing since sliced bread.  I went back and attacked my territory with fervor trying to get the highest volume prescribers in my territory to write my new product, which was a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug for pain and arthritis.  Unfortunately, all of the clinical studies on that product had been done for chronic long-term pain.

 When the product came out, reps with marketing assistance, started detailing it for everything from headaches to menstrual cramps to any kind of acute pain, as well as arthritic pain, long-term pain, and those sorts of things. All of a sudden we started seeing flank pain complaints that were circulating, because of the new drug.  This older doctor that I had called on who was very set in his prescribing habits was called a late adopter skeptic.

 You get a profile of information when you go out to call on doctors, particularly when you have a new product that's being launched, that tells you who writes the most prescriptions for that category of drugs, and what particular brand of drugs that they're using so that you know who your competitor is.  Then they have a little notation as to whether that person is an early adopter, which would be he quickly jumps on board, and prescribes whatever that comes out, or whether he's a late adopter, or a skeptic, that sort of thing.

 You have all that information on board before you even walk into the office.  I knew this was a late adopter skeptic. I knew he was a high volume prescriber that had avery large geriatric population so he would be a goldmine for me in terms of drugs. The problem was he was also skeptic. That meant he would not use anything right away without getting good clinical data.

 I made a call on him,and my final closing plea, which is what they call it in sales, a closing,was to ask him to use it on his worst patient, because what he had told me was during the presentation, "I don't use drugs that come out on the market until they've been on the market for at least a year. That's my rule of thumb, because I see all these new products come out.  We don't know what the side effects are involved with them, and then I get burned."  He said, I don't use new drugs until they've been on the market for a year."

 I persisted and in my gregarious salesman way told him, "I'm not asking for every patient."  The marketing department had told us if you ask for the worst patient the doctor has, and he gets success with that patient, he's much more likely to jump in now and start prescribing for other people.  I did that.  I made that last ditch effort.  "Will you please just give me that one patient, your worst patient that you have that isn't responding to any other therapies,  and see how it works?"

 It was probably two or three months later I get a call from my district manager, and I have an adverse drug report that I have to go do for one of my doctors in my territory with this drug that has now started causing flank pain and renal failure and all these problems.  I go and sure enough, it's the doctor, the late adopter skeptic.

 As I walked into the office, the lady at the front desk looked at me and she goes, "Oh God, I can't believe you have the nerve to step foot in this office again."  I looked at her and I said, "Why, why would you say that?"  She said, "You killed his mother."   Just like that, and I said, "Excuse me, what do you mean I killed his mother?" She said,  "That drug that you told him, his mother died on that drug." My heart sank into my toes.  I was like, "What are they talking about?"

 When I went in to do the adverse drug reaction report with him,  I found ou this worst patient was Mom, who didn't respond to anything. She was in her 90s, and she had had renal failure, and died during dialysis complications, because he gave her my new product.

 That was the first realization that I held the key to life and death, and that my job was not just a sales job.  My job was a job in the medical field, and I had an influence on doctors' prescribing habits, and what patients received.  From that point on, I never, ever gave away any other false information that I knew to be false or never encouraged anyone to do anything outside of their prescribing habits, and what they considered to be in good integrity, as well as in good practice of medicine.  I saw firsthand that I had the ability to just encourage someone to do something that would cause harm.


Gwen Olsen is a former pharmaceutical sales representative. She discusses her experience in the business and includes a powerful example of when she realized it wasn't just a sales job anymore. This tragic story exemplifies how she had the power to affect people's health and lives.

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