A Boston jury has found that Pfizer, Inc. violated the federal racketeering law by improperly promoting its epilepsy drug Neurontin. The world’s largest drug maker was ordered by the jury to pay $47 million in damages. Since the penalty is automatically tripled under the RICO Act, the verdict will actually cost Pfizer $141 million. The company says it will appeal the verdict.
Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan alleged that Pfizer had illegally promoted Neurontin for unapproved uses, such as for migraine headaches, pain and bipolar disorder. As has been reported, it appears the drug doesn’t work for those purposes. While doctors are free to prescribe medicines as they see fit, drug makers are only allowed to promote them for uses approved by the FDA.
This is not the first rodeo for this drug company. In 2004, Pfizer agreed to pay $430 million to federal and state governments and pleaded guilty to criminal charges of illegally marketing Neurontin. The company obtained the drug with its 2000 acquisition of Warner Lambert Corp. Pfizer contends that the judge improperly allowed details of that case and settlement to be considered by the Boston jury.
There are more than 1,000 civil lawsuits pending against Pfizer accusing it of illegally promoting Neurontin for unapproved uses and helping to cause some users’ suicides. Pfizer’s Warner-Lambert subsidiary also pleaded guilty in 2004 to criminal charges filed by the Justice Department in connection with allegations it illegally marketed Neurontin. It paid a $430 million fine.
Along with the $430 million settlement of allegations over Neurontin, Pfizer also paid $2.3 billion in October 2009 to resolve U.S. Justice Department allegations that it illegally marketed the painkiller Bextra and three other drugs. These are all indications of how the drug industry operates.
Source: Reuters and Bloomberg
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