It is no secret that drug companies have long arranged to have ghost authors write journal articles touting their products and then paid doctors to sign off on these articles. Now comes a story of an even more ambitious scheme: ghost authoring a whole textbook. As Duff Wilson reported recently in the New York Times:
Two prominent authors of a 1999 book teaching family doctors how to treat psychiatric disorders provided acknowledgment in the preface for an “unrestricted educational grant” from a major pharmaceutical company.
But the drug maker, then known as SmithKline Beecham, actually had much more involvement than the book described, newly disclosed documents show. The grant paid for a writing company to develop the outline and text for the two named authors, the documents show, and then the writing company said it planned to show three drafts directly to the pharmaceutical company for comments and “sign-off” and page proofs for “final approval.”
“That doesn’t sound unrestricted to me,” Dr. Bernard Lo, a medical ethicist and chairman of an Institute of Medicine group that wrote a 2009 report on conflicts of interest, said after reviewing the documents. “That sounds like they have ultimate control.”
The 269-page book, “Recognition and Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Psychopharmacology Handbook for Primary Care,” is so far the first book among publications, namely medical journal articles, that have been criticized in recent years for hidden drug industry influence, colloquially known as ghostwriting.
“To ghostwrite an entire textbook is a new level of chutzpah,” said Dr. David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, after reviewing the documents. “I’ve never heard of that before. It takes your breath away.”
The doctors named in this episode are not low level figures, either. One co-author is Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, chairman ofat the medical school since 2009 and before that. The other is Dr. Alan F. Schatzberg, chairman of psychiatry at the School of Medicine from 1991 until last year.
The money involved was not huge. According to the Times story, the authors received just $18,000 in royalties.
Dr. Nemeroff has been in trouble before about his ties with drug companies. As the Times reports, "In 2008, Emory University imposed a two-year ban on Dr. Nemeroff receiving N.I.H. grants after a Senate inquiry found that he had failed to disclose at least $1.2 million in industry financing over seven years from pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline."