In 2004, Pfizer settled an illegal Neurontin marketing case with the U.S. Justice Department for $430 million. The original whistleblower complaint was filed by David Franklin, a microbiologist who had worked for Warner-Lambert (the original manufacturer of Neurontin) under the False Claims Act. The settlement did not address harm to patients prescribed Neurontin.Although I was once a proponent of tort reform, the pharmaceutical industry's reckless disregard for human life calls for something more than lawsuit caps. Check out what Risperdal did to this 13-year-old boy:
There are currently 1,200 lawsuits awaiting trial that were filed by individuals who claim to have been harmed by Neurontin, a drug approved as an adjunctive treatment for epilepsy which was widely prescribed for unapproved, off-label uses. The first case to go to trial, Bulger v Pfizer, involves the suicide of Susan Bulger. The case is being tried in Federal District Court in Massachusetts.
Mr. Franklin testified:
"I was trained from day one to market the drug illegally... My job was to promote Neurontin and motivate doctors to experiment on patients. After being hired as a medical liaison, I was selling drugs.
The uses promoted were from the "snake-oil list" of 13 medical conditions."
Franklin testified that Warner-Lambert officials used a variety of tactics to persuade doctors to prescribe Neurontin for unapproved uses.
"They provided the company's sales force with a list of ailments that would benefit from Neurontin use, including restless leg syndrome, migraine headaches and withdrawal symptoms from drug and alcohol abuse." He noted that the FDA hadn't approved the drug for any of those illnesses at the time.
Mark Lanier, the lawyer representing the Bulger family, told jurors that Warner-Lambert executives began the off-label marketing campaign to transform Neurontin into a "blockbuster" medicine generating $1 billion in annual sales. The company estimated that selling it solely as an epilepsy drug would generate only about $50 million in sales.
"The company made a conscious decision to do something illegal -- marketing this drug off-label."
Indeed, illegal, off-label marketing has become "the norm and practice" of the pharmaceutical industry: Clinically insignificant, toxic drugs become blockbuster sellers.
That's because industry spends the most money aggressively marketing the worst drugs--drugs of dubious benefit which pose life-threatening risks.
Pfizer: Neurontin, Bextra, Zoloft, Chantix, Geodon
GlaxoSmithKline: Paxil, Avandia
Lilly: Oraflex, Prozac, Cymbalta, Zyprexa
Janssen (J&J): Prepulsid, Risperdal
Wyeth: Prempro, Redux (Fen-Phen)