Yesterday, the United States government hit Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, with a record $2.3 billion in fines for violating federal drug marketing rules. Among other things, Pfizer was accused of promoting the pain medication Bextra [valdecoxib] for unapproved uses. The penalties came from admitting that the painkiller Bextra and 12 other drugs were promoted for what’s known as off-label use, which the FDA says put public health at risk in the process.
It was reported that Bextra became a top-seller, bringing in $1.2 billion a year, as sales reps assured doctors it could be used not just for arthritis, but for any acute pain. The main whistleblower, a former company sales rep, said in a statement, ‘at Pfizer, I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives. I couldn’t do that.'” Meanwhile, “in exchange for hearing company sales pitches, doctors were paid up to $1,500 to attend meetings, and were treated to conferences at lush resorts, given air fare, hotels, meals, even massages
“The Justice Department described Wednesday’s settlement as the largest in its history,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “The settlement reflects an emphasis by the Obama administration on holding US healthcare corporations accountable for their activities, especially in trying to market drugs to patients and doctors for uses that have not been approved, Justice Department officials and legal experts said.”