Pharma Don't Need No Stinkin' Guidelines to Woo Veterinarians! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Rock concerts. Magic shows. Contests in which everyone who plays is a winner.

For five days, the action never stopped at the McCormick Place convention center, as more than 9,000 veterinarians and technicians flocked to see the latest medicines and attend clinical workshops organized by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Around the show floor, the world's biggest drugmakers had set up exhibits two stories tall, with enough flashing lights and giant twirling logos to resemble a Detroit car show.

The vets, the nation's last line of defense against unsafe drugs getting to animals, were receiving a blizzard of meals, books, electronic gadgets and speaking fees from drugmakers.

The convention revealed just one of the many ways corporate money influences pet health care — from research to treatment to sales — threatening the objectivity of those prescribing drugs to your dog or cat.

That's not to say that those who are doing the prescribing — the nation's veterinarians — don't have animals' best interest at heart, or are especially susceptible to industry money.

But The Star's investigation reveals a greater potential for abuse because the pet medicine industry is allowed to target veterinarians with marketing practices banned from the realm of human medicine.

In recent decades, pharmaceutical companies have been investing billions of dollars in pet medicines for the promise they hold to launch new drugs quickly and profitably. And they treat veterinarians not just as medical professionals, but as an important distribution channel to be wooed every step of the way.

That was on full display at the Chicago conference in July 2013. A glossy, 124-page convention program was packed with ads for animal drugs, workshops sponsored by drug companies and lunchtime sessions, complete with free catered meals, courtesy of a drugmaker.

In one aisle, representatives from drugmaker Novartis Animal Health pulled veteridrnarians from the aisles to take a multiple-choice quiz on fleas and ticks. All who played got a prize: a Brookstone Ultra-Thin Travel Speaker — "for great sound anywhere" — that retails for $39.99.

In another corner of the show floor, drugmaker Merial wooed veterinarians into an exhibit with this display in flashing lights: "Play Ultimate Vet Challenge For a Chance to Win an iPad Mini!"

Virbac, another drugmaker, gave veterinarians a "special decoder" to unlock a safe, with a chance to win an iPad or $100. "Not a winner today?" an exhibit sign said. "Try your code again on each exhibit day."