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Allergan Botox tweet breaches UK pharma's Code of Practice

Company ruled to have breached Code over employee’s use of a personal Twitter account

An employee's use of Twitter has landed Allergan in trouble with UK pharma's Code of Practice regulator.

The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) ruled Allergan breached the Code on several counts after an employee accidentally tweeted publicly about Botox.

Best known as a cosmetic anti-wrinkle treatment, Botox is also indicated for a number of prescription-only uses in the UK, including certain spasticity associated with stroke in adults.

The PMCPA therefore decided Allergan had in effect advertised a prescription only medicine to the general public, breaking one of the Code's most important rules.

Issuing its ruling, the PMCPA said: “Pharmaceutical company employees needed to ensure that business relationships and personal relationships were kept very separate particularly when such business relationships were subject to the Code. 

“In the Panel's view, pharmaceutical company employees needed to be extremely cautious when using social media.”

The unnamed company employee used their personal Twitter account, without the knowledge or authority of Allergan, to respond to a tweet from a friend who worked for an agency that in turn worked with a patient organisation. 

Although the tweet was intended to be a private message to the friend, Allergan said it was instead accessible to the friend, the friend's followers and the followers of the patient organisation. I understand that in practice what actually happened was that a (public) '@' message was sent, rather than a (private) 'direct message'.

The tweet referred to Botox and said “… we could do something around stroke rehab …”.

The message was deleted and the Twitter account closed as soon as the case was brought to the attention of the employee, described as “an occasional and inexperienced user of Twitter”.

Allergan's social media policy clearly states that employees are not allowed to comment about Allergan products or business activity in a social media forum and the PMCPA said the company “had been badly let down by its employee”.

Nevertheless, Allergan acknowledged a breach of clause 22.1 and a further one of clause 9.1, ruled because high standards had not been maintained.

The company avoided breaching clause 2 of the Code, which deals with bringing the industry into disrepute, because the PMCPA did not feel the case was serious enough to warrant it.

Allergan has subsequently updated its social media policy and said it would add further emphasis on the personal use of social media to it, as well as updating its training materials on the Code.

The company also sent all its UK employees a copy of the PMCPA's digital guidance, which was issued last April and specifically warned against using Twitter to promote prescription-only medicines.

It is the second time in the last 12 months that pharma tweets have breached the Code, following an error by Bayer UK & Ireland.

That company's corporate account publicly tweeted about the launch of two prescription-only medicines, erectile dysfunction drug Levitra and Sativex, a treatment for spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.

Rather than highlighting the dangers of the medium, the cases show how important it is to understand how Twitter and other social media sites work, and then apply that knowledge to a thorough understanding of pharma's existing rules.

• The full case report of Allergan's Twitter Code breach is available online

25th January 2012

From: Marketing


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