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March 26, 2009

Psychiatric Group Ends Industry-Sponsored Seminars


Amid increasing Congressional scrutiny of ties between doctors and drug makers, the American Psychiatric Association announced on Wednesday that it would end industry-financed medical seminars at its annual meeting. The association, the field’s premier organization, said it would also phase out meals at the meeting paid for with industry money.

Each year psychiatrists, like other doctors, must attend a set number of these seminars — called continuing medical education courses, or C.M.E.’s — to fulfill state licensing requirements. But the seminars, whether given at an annual meeting or elsewhere, are often financed by drug or device makers and can be biased in favor of the sponsor’s products, experts say.

“We decided that our professional education should be entirely separate from industries that are involved in psychiatry,” said the association’s president, Dr. Nada L. Stotland, in a telephone interview.

Over the years, she said, the association has charged companies up to $50,000 for sponsoring a symposium, and some annual meetings have included 30 of them, for a total of $1.5 million. Total income from the meetings accounts for about 10 percent of the association’s $50 million annual budget, Dr. Stotland said.

The association has been reviewing the income it received from industry sources since early 2008, Dr. Stotland said, looking for potential conflicts. Since then, Congressional investigators, led by Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, have found that several prominent psychiatrists who received hundreds of thousands to more than $1 million from drug makers did not report that income to their employers, as required by federal and most academic rules. The revelations have been widely reported in the media and have prompted some universities to conduct investigations of their own.

Industry-supported seminars are commonplace at annual meetings throughout medicine, as are payments to doctors and other financial arrangements. The psychiatric association said it had no plans to eliminate drug advertisements in its journals, commercial exhibits at meetings, or industry-sponsored fellowships for doctors.

Dr. Stotland said the group was not aware of any other organization that had made a similar decision on seminar sponsorship.