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Supreme Court Rules For Drugmakers In Two Cases

Prescription data are now fair game in Vermont.
Prescription data are now fair game in Vermont.

Sorry, docs in Vermont. The U.S. Supreme Court says the prescriptions you write can't be hidden away from drug companies that use the information to guide their salesmen.

In a 6-3 decision, the court lowered the boom on a Vermont law that requires doctors to agree ahead of time for the info to be sold and used for marketing purposes.

That law pretty much puts the kibbosh on the data mining, which is standard practice throughout the pharmaceutical industry.

But the law would still let others, such as insurers and researchers and even the state, use the data for their own purposes. The majority on the court faulted that logic:

Vermont has given its doctors a contrived choice: Either consent, which will allow your prescriber-identifying information to be disseminated and used without constraint; or, withhold consent, which will allow your information to be used by those speakers whose message the State supports.

And the majority on the court didn't abide the effective restriction of commercial speech imposed by the Vermont law on detailers, as drug industry salesmen are known:

Vermont may be displeased that detailers who use prescriber-identifying information are effective in promoting brand-name drugs. The State can express that view through its own speech. ... But a State's failure to persuade does not allow it to hamstring the opposition. The State may not burden the speech of others in order to tilt public debate in a preferred direction.

In another pharmaceutical case, the high court ruled in a 5-4 decision that generic drugmakers can't be sued for failing to warn patients about drug hazards as long as the labels on the generic versions of medicines are the same as those on the same brand-name drug.

Generics make up the vast majority of medicines prescribed in the U.S. these days, and the plaintiffs had sought to put the generics companies on the hook for disclosing new hazards.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.