By Lena Groeger, ProPublica.org
On Monday, the Department of Justice announced that drug company GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay a $3 billion fine, the largest health care fraud fine in the history of the United States. This fine is just the latest in a string of drug company penalties for improper promotion of drugs for “off-label,” or unapproved, uses. Here we take a look at six recent multi-million dollar fines that drug companies have agreed to pay for inappropriately, and in some cases illegally, promoting prescription drugs.
Eli Lilly was fined $1.42 billion to resolve a government investigation into the off-label promotion of the anti-psychotic Zyprexa. Zyprexa had been approved for the treatment of certain psychotic disorders, but Lilly admitted to promoting the drug in elderly populations to treat dementia. The government also alleged that Lilly targeted primary care physicians to promote Zyprexa for unapproved uses and “trained its sales force to disregard the law.”
Pfizer was fined $2.3 billion, then the largest health care fraud settlement and the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States. Pfizer pled guilty to misbranding the painkiller Bextra with “the intent to defraud or mislead”, promoting the drug to treat acute pain at dosages the FDA had previously deemed dangerously high. Bextra was pulled from the market in 2005 due to safety concerns. The government alleged that Pfizer also promoted three other drugs illegally: the anti-psychotic Geodon, an antibiotic Zyvox, and the anti-epileptic drug Lyrica.
AstraZeneca was fined $520 million to resolve allegations that it illegally promoted the anti-psychotic drug Seroquel. The drug was approved for treating schizophrenia and later for bipolar mania, but the government alleged that AstraZeneca promoted Seroquel for a variety of unapproved uses, such as aggression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression. AstraZeneca denied the charges but agreed to pay the fine to end the investigation.
Merck agreed to pay a fine of $950 million related to the illegal promotion of the painkiller Vioxx, which was withdrawn from the market in 2004 after studies found the drug increased the risk of heart attacks. The company pled guilty to having promoted Vioxx as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis before it had been approved for that use. The settlement also resolved allegations that Merck made false or misleading statements about the drug’s heart safety to increase sales.
Abbott was fined $1.5 billion in connection to the illegal promotion of the anti-psychotic drug Depakote. Abbott admitted to having trained a special sales force to target nursing homes, marketing the drug for the control of aggression and agitation in elderly dementia patients. Depakote had never been approved for that purpose, and Abbott lacked evidence that the drug was safe or effective for those uses. The company also admitted to marketing Depakote to treat schizophrenia, even though no study had found it effective for that purpose.
GlaxoSmith Kline agreed to pay a fine of $3 billion to resolve civil and criminal liabilities regarding its promotion of drugs, as well as its failure to report safety data. This is the largest health care fraud settlement in the United States to date. The company pled guilty to misbranding the drug Paxil for treating depression in patients under 18, even though the drug had never been approved for that age group. GlaxoSmithKline also pled guilty to failing to disclose safety information about the diabetes drug Avandia to the FDA.
Source: The Department of Justice.