For a good while, Sen. Grassley and his team seemed focused on one specific area of Pharma--outing academic docs who are on the take for big bucks, and who may not have fully disclosed their takings to their institutions or to NIH. Now, it seems, the good Senator is after astroturf. We read that he sent letters last spring to a dozen or so disease and patient advocacy organizations to ask about how much money they received from drug and device makers.
One result is reported by Gardiner Harris in the New York Times:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has historically treated detailed information about its donors as private. We now learn that over the past three years, drug firms have provided about 3/4 of the organization's budget. Its executive director, interviewed by Harris, admitted that this was excessive and that it was the goal of NAMI (as well, he implied, as many of its peer organizations) to reduce this level of dependency.
That said, there was no admission that when in the past, NAMI lobbied state governments to insist that Medicaid programs continue to pay for even the most expensive and sometimes least effective psychotropic medications, it could have been doing the bidding of its pharmaceutical-industry sponsors rather than expressing the wishes of its membership.
Some of our fellow bloggers followed up with pointed comments about NAMI:
As I explained in HOOKED, the term "astroturf" refers to fake grass roots--an advocacy organization that claims to represent people concerned about a disease, that is in actuality a front organization supported almost solely by drug industry money. NAMI is not a fake organization; it has real members and real chapters, offices, etc. (As I found out a while back when a local NAMI chapter sponsored a visit to Portland, OR for me to talk about concerns at the medicine/Pharma interface). The problem is the hybrid--a real organization that accepts so much money from drug and device companies that it no longer has true independence.