Pharma spending on US doctors topped $1 billion last year as the industry braces for the arrival of the Sunshine Act.

This is according to figures compiled by the consultancy firm PharmaShine for the Financial Times, which says the $1 billion (£662,000) total for 2012 is much higher than previous years, but this may be because a number of pharma firms are revealing their payments for the first time.

In fact the FT said that company by company, payments were on the decline as most pharma firms that posted year-over-year numbers showed reductions in spending compared with 2011.

This all comes as the industry in the USA braces for the so-called Sunshine Act, which comes into force in the next few months, mandating pharma to disclose all of its payments to doctors.

The UK financial newspaper says these new figures highlight the volumes of spending by drug manufacturers, which is aimed at more than half a million doctors.

Its report found that Merck tops the list with payments of $226 million in 2012, followed closely by Lilly with $219m and Pfizer with $162 million – all three of which are based in the USA.

Much of the increase in disclosed 2012 total spending comes from Merck and Novartis, as these two companies provided more comprehensive data for the first time for the year. AbbVie, Forest and UCB reported for the first time.

As the Sunshine legislation has not yet taken hold, Sanofi, Roche, Bayer and Amgen have all decided against releasing their payments for 2012. But it can be expected that the $1 billion figure for 2012 will increase dramatically next year as all firms will have to show their hands.

The money is being used for a number of areas, including entertainment, but also for consulting, education and research, which critics argue risk distorting the prescription of medicines, according to the FT. 

Daniel Carlat, director of the prescription project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, expressed concern at the sums involved. “There is so much data showing spending can unduly influence physicians, so that patients may be receiving the wrong and the more expensive medications,” he said.