Big Pharma Flouts Laws on Off-Label Uses

Billions in fines don't stop illegal promotion
By Sarah Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 9, 2009 8:19 AM CST
Drugs are prepared for shipping at the Pfizer plant in Lincoln, Neb., on Sept. 2, 2009.   (AP Photo/Dave Weaver, file)
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(Newser) – Back in 2004, a unit of drug giant Pfizer pleaded guilty to marketing a drug, Neurotonin, for unapproved uses, paid $430 million in fines, and promised to clean up its act—which it had no intention of doing. "At the very same time Pfizer was in our office negotiating and resolving the allegations of criminal conduct in 2004, Pfizer was itself in its other operations violating those very same laws," Boston's acting US attorney tells Bloomberg. The result? The company's record $1.19 billion fine in September.

Though Pfizer has been in the hot seat lately, it's hardly alone. Since 2004, seven major drug makers, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly, have paid a total of $7 billion in fines and penalties. Six have admitted marketing drugs for unapproved uses. So why do they keep doing it? It pays. Companies often spend $1 billion to develop a new drug, and they want doctors to prescribe it. “They’re drivers that knowingly speed," says a USC med school professor. "If stopped, they pay the fine, and then they do it again."