My animals were on Frontline when they acquired the worst flea infestation I have ever seen. I kept using the Frontline I had purchased at Tractor Supply Company, PetSmart, and Costco, but finally gave up. Why poison my animals for no reason? I saw many similar complaints online, along with suspicion that the fleas have become immune or that the company has purposefully created a system of dependence by providing a product that doesn’t work in order to encourage people to keep buying more. The first time I took my dog to the doctor for her flea allergy, he told me he was unaware of any complaints with Frontline, but that the product is 100% guaranteed when purchased through a vet (this is apparently the new mantra, but that is a different story). On the follow up visit with my dog, the same vet told me that the fleas have developed immunity to Frontline so it is not as effective as it once was. At the reception desk, I was told that the medication is being sold illegally and that Frontline is ONLY sold to licensed veterinarians. I questioned how, then, it is possible that these HUGE stores are openly and freely selling. The answer: vets are reselling it illegally.
Huh? This makes no sense. We know that any product can be and probably is being sold illegally in a Black Market somewhere, but let’s exercise some common sense. Is it really possible that MAJOR retailers are selling MASSIVE amounts of Frontline ILLEGALLY, without so much as a slap on the wrist from manufacturer Merial? I think not. I know enough about American capitalism and political economy to know that business (especially pharmaceutical companies) have much legal recourse, lots of lobbying power, and a fierce defense when it comes to market control, that there is no way something like this would go on so openly without manufacturer complicity. So, I did a little web research.
It is, unsurprisingly, difficult to find credible information on this topic, and there are no clear answers. I did, however, learn some new words- like “diversion” and “grey market.” Drug diversion* is an ongoing problem that most people have probably never heard of. It can take place in different ways, but in the case of Frontline, it seems to be that Merial, despite their claims of exclusivity, IS the major purveyor of product diversion. From what I can tell, their claim of selling only to veterinarians is technically true, but not specifically defined, nor controlled. They sell to third parties who then supply major retailers. This is the Grey Market. The third parties are technically veterinarians because the orders are placed by licensed vets who work for those companies. There is never a question of what the vet is going to do with hundreds of thousands of units. Merial surely knows that no one entity can use all those units, yet they approve the sale. They obviously don’t really care about the end user of the product, as is implied—you know, safety and all that—but rather wish to increase market share.
Merial can have its cake and eat it too. It can maintain a visage of veterinary exclusivity, which both encourages veterinarians to prescribe and carry the product, and increases consumer confidence on the product. It can also appeal to the mass market by offering its product at a price that undercuts veterinarians. Furthermore, it can claim no responsibility for product failure in the mass market, protecting itself from potential lawsuits. And, as suggested on Cafepharma (see link below), the pharmaceutical company can even use unwitting salespeople to support the whole system.
Having experience in the veterinary industry, inside information on the human health industry, and having done research on both, I can tell you that doctors of all sorts get most of their information about drugs from sales reps and that those sales reps get their information right from the company. This means that neither reps nor doctors really know much about the pharmaceuticals they sell and prescribe and tend only to repeat the scripts provided to them. The only one who really knows anything about medications are the manufacturing insiders and you will be more than hard pressed to find ANY scientifically supported information to back their claims because most research remains in-house. Consumers are powerless in this regard, which makes us particularly subject to malleability and this is what Merial is exploiting. I also suspect that this might all be part of Merial positioning itself for comfortable reception for its newest flea control medication, CERTIFECT.
No, we cannot, as individuals on a daily basis, combat the many dubious activities of Merial and other pharmaceutical companies. But surely a company who is so casually perpetrating such a scam should not be rewarded for their efforts. I suggest boycotting Merial, at least when it comes to its flea control product lines.
Consumer inquiry to Merial by Susan Thixton, pet food safety advocate
Pharmaceutical reps talk about pharmaceutical Grey Market
Veterinary Information Network exudes skepticism of Merial claims
Veterinary offices are concerned about sales- conflict of interest?
One of the claims against retail Frontline, some people claim that Merial does not operate or sell its products in other countries. What do you think?
* Please be clear- diversion is NOT the same as counterfeiting! There ARE counterfeit drugs out there that are in no way associated with the original brand or manufacturer and can be dangerous to use. There are reports of drugs made in and sold out of China that resemble Frontline but are in no way associated with Merial. Many people are confusing the two different issues, which is muddying the waters of this discussion.