Earlier this month, drug giant Pfizer agreed to pay a $2.3 billion penalty to settle claims over payment of kickbacks and illegal drug marketing and promotion that violated federal drug laws over an extensive period of time. The $2.3 billion settlement is the largest health care fine in U.S. history. As part of the settlement, Pfizer will pay a $1.2 billion criminal fine, a $105 criminal forfeiture, and pay another $1 billion to Medicaid, Medicare, and other federal healthcare programs. The government said the Pfizer promoted four prescription drugs, including the pain killer Bextra, Geodon (anti-psychotic), Zyvox (an anti-biotic) and Lyrica (an anti-epileptic), as treatments for medical conditions different than those the drugs had been approved for by the FDA.
While it’s not uncommon for doctors to prescribe drugs for off-label medical conditions, drug manufacturers are strictly prohibited from marketing drugs for uses that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. According to federal authorities, Pfizer encouraged its agents to wine and dine doctors in order to encourage prescribing the four drugs for off-label medical conditions. Pfizer officials even went so far as to create phony doctor requests for medical information in order to send unsolicited information to doctors about unapproved uses and dosages.
"Combating health care fraud is one of this administration’s top priorities," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perelli said in announcing the settlement. Perelli added the settlement illustrates ways the department "can help the American public at a time when budgets are tight and health care costs are rising."
The fraud and illegal conduct by Pfizer jeopardizes public health, corrupts medical decisions by health care providers, and wastes billions of government dollars. This massive settlement is just an example of how far the government is willing to go to combat this egregious behavior and corporate greed. Hopefully, it will serve to deter other pharmaceutical companies from similar practices.