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Photo: Abbey Hepner.

Big Pharma: A Collaboration between Artist Abbey Hepner and Economist Alicia Plemmons

December 28, 2019 - January 31, 2020
Weitman Gallery, Steinberg Hall

Big Pharma: A Collaboration between Artist Abbey Hepner and Economist Alicia Plemmons is a series of photographs of objects used for pharmaceutical marketing purposes. Mimicking the style of pharmaceutical advertisements on television and cut from glossy magazines, Hepner photographed branded objects against colored backgrounds and fabric with patterns found in the medical industry, such as hospital gowns. By removing the medication name and pharmaceutical company's logos, she renders the items anonymous and only through the title does the viewer gain knowledge of its original purpose.

Until recently, the effect of these objects as gifts on physician behavior was alluded to but hardly understood in magnitude. Physicians who received and accepted “gifts” from pharmaceutical companies in the D.C. area prescribed an average of 892 claims, more than double the claims for prescribers who did not accept gifts. Though larger gifts elicited a larger impact, studies have found that even gifts as small as a $7 box of doughnuts may influence physician behavior. These gift recipients prescribe 8% more branded drugs on average, which has alarming implications for patient welfare, tax revenue, and insurance cost. In 2008, the pharmaceutical industry began reducing the amount of branded items—golf balls, pens, mugs, stethoscope tags—given to doctors to encourage them to prescribe certain drugs. Despite many of these reduction efforts being targeted by individual states and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, there are currently no national laws prohibiting the acceptance of gifts or payments by health care providers.