This is a breathtaking settlement! It is easy to zone out when seeing big numbers, but this is a truly mind-boggling amount of money. Pfizer (and its subsidiaries Pharmacia & Upjohn) have agreed to cough up $2.3 billion to the government because of very bad behavior. It is the largest such settlement in history, bar none!
Pfizer has been one of the biggest and most successful drug companies in the world. Think drugs like Lipitor to lower cholesterol, Norvasc to contol hypertension and Viagra for you know what.
Sales of Lipitor top $14,000,000,000 each year. Throw in other blockbusters such as Aricept for Alzheimer’s disease, Zyrtec for allergies and Zoloft for depression and you begin to get an idea of how important Pfizer is in the world of pharmaceuticals.
That is why this settlement is so stunning. To have a company of this size get caught doing so many illegal and unethical things is a black mark on the entire industry. Actually, many other huge drug companies have also been fined enormous amounts of money for illegal marketing practices. Companies like Eli Lilly, GSK (GlaxoSmithKline), Schering-Plough, Merck, AstraZeneca, and Bristol Myers Squibb have all gotten into trouble and paid huge fines and government settlements. It has been described as the cost of doing business. But none of the past fines have reached the magnitude of Pfizer’s penalties.
- So, what did Pfizer do wrong? Let’s start with illegal drug promotion:
- Doctors received free junkets to classy resorts
- Doctors got free golf, massages and goodness knows what else
- Doctors were paid to promote and prescribe certain drugs in violation of kickback laws
- Many drugs were promoted for off label uses (a BIG no-no!)
The list of promotion problems includes drugs like Bextra, Lyrica, Geodon and Zyvox.
- Repeat offenses. Off-label promotion continued even after past transgressions were detected and the company was fined.
- Pfizer paid kickbacks to market drugs like Lipitor, Celebrex, Viagra and Zithromax.
- The company overcharged Medicare and Medicaid and was fined nearly $1 billion
Enough said. The behavior was atrocious. It is time for the American public to react with indignation and outrage when pharmaceutical companies behave so badly. We spend an unbelievable amount of money on medicines to relieve symptoms, improve our health and in some cases, just survive. It is high time we demanded ethical conduct from this hugely profitable industry.