Friday, April 8, 2011

Drug Company Pleads Guilty to Health Fraud

Life Extension Magazine March 2010 
By William Faloon


Physicians Paid to Illegally Prescribe Drugs

It’s one thing to break the law by paying doctors to prescribe drugs that at least have some degree of documented efficacy, but Pfizer went further than this. 

The government’s complaint describes how Pfizer created new uses for its patented drugs and then engaged in all kinds of devious schemes to illegally promote these “new uses” to physicians. For instance, Pfizer claimed their drug Lyrica® was superior to lower-cost generic medications to treat neuropathic and surgical pain, and then illegally compensated doctors to prescribe Lyrica® for these indications.15

Geodon® is a drug approved to treat schizophrenia or acute bipolar mania, but the government outlined in its complaint that Pfizer was inappropriately and illegally promoting it for use in children and adults to treat autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mood disorders, and depression. The government contended that Pfizer illegally promoted Geodon® at dosages that were off-label and “offered and paid illegal remuneration to health care professionals to induce them to promote and prescribe Geodon in violation of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute.”16

Zyvox® is an antibiotic Pfizer makes to treat deadly antibiotic-resistant MRSA staph infections. The settlement agreement outlined various alleged misconduct relating to the illegal marketing of this drug, including how Pfizer falsely advertised that Zyvox® was superior to generic vancomycin and then illegally paid doctors to prescribe it.17


Pfizer Gets By with a Slap on the Wrist

In the settlement agreement, Pfizer only has to agree to admit to the Bextra® criminal charge. In exchange for paying a total of $2.3 billion, Pfizer is allowed to claim a denial of the government’s other allegations. 

To give you an idea what a drop in the bucket this payout is to Pfizer, when a one-time tax break was given to corporations that repatriated offshore profits, Pfizer brought back $37 billion of cash stashed away from its foreign operations.18 Pfizer did this because the tax rate was only 5.25% that year. Considering how much more they made in their largest market (the United States), writing a $2.3 billion check to settle these massive fraud claims is pocket change to a company the size of Pfizer.

This is not the first time Pfizer was caught committing these illegal acts. Prosecutors noted that this was Pfizer’s fourth such settlement since 2002.1 In fact, according to the US Attorney, while Pfizer was negotiating deals over past misconduct, they were continuing to violate the same laws with other drugs.19
Contrast Pfizer’s “slap-on-the-wrist” fine to what the FDA does to those who practice alternative medicine. Under far less egregious circumstances, the government seizes everything owned by alternative practitioners and often subjects them to harsh jail sentences.


Drug Companies Pay Ghostwriters

According to a study released by editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association, drug companies pay doctors with prestigious university affiliations to put their name on so-called “scientific papers” that are written by ghostwriters.20

These pharmaceutical company-financed articles, carefully calibrated to sell expensive prescription drugs, slip by the peer-review process and make it into the top medical journals. Not only do these articles influence physician prescribing practices, but the media often picks up on them and runs favorable news articles about these deceptively promoted drugs.

As Life Extension reported last year, drug company Wyeth faces 8,400 lawsuits from women who claim Premarin® or PremPro® caused them to become ill. Court documents from these cases reveal that Wyeth paid ghostwriters to produce 26 “scientific” papers supporting the use of their dangerous female hormone drugs.21

The Wyeth-funded articles extolled purported benefits of these unnatural hormone drugs while downplaying their lethal risks. Nowhere in these articles was Wyeth’s role in initiating and paying for them disclosed.

Court documents show how Wyeth contracted with private companies to outline articles, draft them, and then solicit top physicians to sign their names, even though many of the doctors contributed little or no writing to them. These tainted articles were published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005, and helped generate billions of dollars of sales for Wyeth.21

The latest corroboration of large-scale drug company-induced ghostwriting substantiates what Life Extension uncovered decades ago: drug companies manipulate scientific data to deceive doctors into prescribing dangerous drugs.

If you wonder how pharmaceutical companies have been able to defraud the American public for so many decades, look no further than the incestuous relationship they maintain with the FDA. By providing the pharmaceutical industry a virtual monopoly over drug sales in the United States, as the FDA does, consumers have only limited options when they contract a serious illness.

Those who offer alternatives to FDA-approved drugs often find themselves under criminal or civil investigation by any number of federal agencies, thus impeding or outright blocking their ability to compete against pharmaceutical behemoths.


Where to Find Unbiased Drug Information

Not all prescription drugs are fraudulently sold. In fact, some medications confer longevity benefits. The problem is that pharmaceutical companies exert so much control over the FDA that consumers cannot rely on this agency to protect them against dangerous and ineffective drugs.

The Life Extension Foundation is not a patent holder of expensive prescription drugs, nor are we economically beholden to the pharmaceutical industry. Our track record of warning against dangerous drug side effects, while recommending safer and more effective drug uses, exceeds anything that the FDA has ever done to protect consumers.

As a Life Extension member, you obtain unbiased scientific data, free from the scandalous and criminal pharmaceutical company deception most Americans are vulnerable to.

For longer life,
William Faloon
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