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There’s No Free Lunch With MS

There’s no free dinner, either.  Recently in one week I ate in three nice restaurants and had fine meals, three days in a row, all of them compliments of the pharmaceutical companies that are reaping profits from MS drugs.  Want to know what I was eating?  Twice I had soup, salad and filet mignon, and the third meal,  I was encouraged to order whatever I wanted from the menu. These are not simple, inexpensive blue plate special lunches. All told, between the three meals, there were about 70 people at Pharma’s table. Best of all, there was no bill for me or any of the others there to pay, or at least not at the end of the meal in the form of a server’s check.

For some reason, my tiny little corner of southwest Ohio has a steady stream of lunches and dinners offered to our MS community.  Perhaps it’s because we have great drug reps who really like to treat us to meals to stretch our household budgets.  Or maybe it’s because one out of approximately every 700-800 people in Ohio has Multiple Sclerosis, and they are hoping we can be persuaded by the information being offered to make a treatment decision in favor of their brand.

The reality check, though, is those free lunches we get aren’t free. We pay for them by giving our time to sit through the latest drug presentation – around here these talks are almost always given by a neurologist who specializes in MS.  If there is no neurologist, then it defaults to an MS nurse who gives the talk.  We, or our insurance, are also paying for them if we decide to choose their drug as our treatment of choice.

Because I am very active with the local MS community, I know most of the MS drug company sales reps and have helped to make our people aware of these presentations.  There are regulars at these meals who make no excuse – they are there because of the free food and nothing else because it can be a budget stretcher.  No one is being forced to give up their time to attend and almost always we walk away not only with a full stomach but also new information. The speaker is required to stick to the official presentation, an officially prepared and approved by the company’s legal office,  power point slide show with much of the same information over and over, regardless of which drug is being highlighted.  The speaker is also compensated for their time with an honorarium.  It appears to me that one goes uncompensated in some form or another at these talks.

There are always slides about multiple sclerosis – what is MS, where are MS lesions found, how is MS diagnosed, and tips on talking to our doctors about MS treatments.  Then there are the product specific slides which talk about efficacy, relapse rate reductions and how the company’s patient support program can make this drug affordable for all of us, unless you happen to be on government insurance and then you might be out of luck.

This practice of offering meals and talks is controversial, with many people not approving, saying these pharmaceutical companies are unfairly trying to influence us to take their drugs and consequently, the talks are highly regulated by the FDA. The information the speaker is allowed to give about a particular drug is limited by this governing agency. I attend as many of these talks as I can fit into my schedule, and it’s certainly not for the meals because I have had more than my share of tasteless chicken dinners. The best part of these talks is after the presenter has made it through the official slide program, without fail, they have always taken other questions about MS.  From these Q&A sessions, I gather information that I share in online MS forums and write about in my blogs; being able to listen to and question a variety of medical personnel in addition to my own neurologist, gives an added perspective to the current MS scene.

I’m not kidding myself or anyone else about the purpose of these meals – these companies really want our business.  There’s a lot of profit in these drugs and treating us to lunch or dinner can be a good way for the pharmaceutical company to grab the consumer’s attention and that perhaps their brand of MS treatment is better than the competitor’s offering. The direct to the consumer marketing approach is not new for prescription drug manufacturers. However, I can find nowhere else in medical treatments for chronic diseases where  the patients are courted so heavily as in the world of Multiple Sclerosis.  Not only is MS an expensive disease, it is also a highly profitable one and they all want our attention.

Have you attended a mealtime talk sponsored a pharmaceutical company?

The next time you get a mailing or a notice in your inbox that there is a special program in your area, try to take advantage of the opportunity.  You get to meet others with MS, you will hear a presentation from MS experts where you might learn something new, and most of all you will get that ‘free’ meal that you have helped to pay for in so many ways.

Wishing you well,


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Neva
    6 years ago

    If as you say, MS is a highly profitable disease to the drug companies, then why would they even try to find a cure?

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    Neva, that’s a question that often gets asked and some people believe the pharmaceutical companies really don’t want to find the cure. Personally, I would prefer to not be so cynical as some people about finding a cure, and I appreciate that in labs all around the world there are scientists hunting for our cure and the repair of damage already done. If you are not already familiar with them, you might be interested in learning more about the Myelin Repair Foundation and the Accelerated Cure Project. These are organizations dedicated to exactly what their names say. Thanks for reading and commenting on my thoughts. ~Laura

  • Bobo
    6 years ago

    I appreciate the “free lunches/dinners” provided by the pharma companies. It’s a time out to socialize with other people having MS, caregivers, friends of people with MS, etc.
    In listening to the different neurologists or MS nurses, I usually come away with some information I didn’t previously have, a confirmation of an MS fact that pertains to my brand of MS, or a question I want to ask my neurologist on the next visit.
    I’ve been officially living the diagnosed MS life for 14 years, and there have been a lot of changes in understanding MS. I appreciate the new thoughts and changes in direction.

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    6 years ago

    Bobo, it sounds like you and I agree on the take-aways from these gatherings. I have met some very nice people, too. And I almost always learn something new that is useful. You are right – there have been so many changes lately this is a good way to stay on top of them.

  • Jessica Petroff
    6 years ago

    I too agree with the above, but here is a tidbit I recently learned. I work as a medical assistant in a family physician office and struck up a conversation with a drug rep. I kind of complained about the above to him and what he told me not only surprised me, but to the point I truly didn’t believe him until I did a little investigation of my own; which turned out to be true.

    It is true that pharmaceutical companies make hand over fist off of us MS’ers, mainly because our drugs are considered orphan drugs, which cost more to research and then to keep in production because even though persons with MS are growing in numbers (unfortunately), MS doesn’t even come close to heart disease, diabetes or cancer (which also stink). All drug companies set a flat rate for the drug they market (which can be a lot) and then the pharmacy can mark up that drug sometimes as much as 30%.

    Unfortunately again for us, we don’t have a lot of options to “shop” around different pharmacies for our drugs because most of them we can only get from specialty pharmacies. But if you take something else in addition to your MS therapy, do a little shopping around and see what you come up with in the prices.

    Good post as usual Laura!

  • hmrsmr
    6 years ago

    I have tried to sign up for these events, but they are always full. I find that interesting to begin with and I assume they are physicians or med students, as they are always close to hospitals and medical buildings onsite at universities. As a Copaxone user for RRMS, I don’t have a lot of “choices”. Since I am “wealthy” I qualify for no assistance when paying for my prescription. My husband’s work “healthcare” plan has massive premiums and deductibles. This week I ordered my first refill for the new rx year. $3,850. I will reach our deductible level w/next month’s order. The irony is if we were “poor”, we would pay nothing. Obamacare will make this worse for people in our bracket. I don’t need the RX companies to tell me what I have learned in the past nine years and to listen to them tout their drug, which is the only one thanks to patent protections. If the my $3,850 goes to pay for lunches of physicians and reps, I am not pleased.

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