The disturbing story behind Pfizer’s $2.3 billion drug marketing fines

It paid nearly $1.2 billion in criminal fines for the way it pushed Bextrathe largest fine the U.S. government has ever collected from a drug company. It paid a billion dollars more to settle a batch of civil suits –  although it denied wrongdoing – on allegations that it illegally promoted 12 other drugs. In all, Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, lost the equivalent of three months’ profit.

The story began in 2001, when Pfizer’s painkilling drug Bextra was about to hit the market. The drug was part of a revolutionary class of painkillers known as Cox-2 inhibitors that were supposed to be safer than generic drugs, but at 20 times the price of ibuprofen.

Pfizer and its marketing partner, Pharmacia, planned to sell Bextra as a treatment for acute pain, the kind you have after surgery. But in November 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Bextra was not safe for patients at high risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The FDA approved Bextra only for arthritis and menstrual cramps. It rejected the drug in higher doses for acute, surgical pain.  Continue reading

A mere $2.3 billion later…

J0211960262As one who has written countless press releases during the decades I worked in public relations, I just love picking through other people’s press releases now.  I can smell a spin a mile away, and I’m always curious about translating the spin back into The Truth when corporations attempt to communicate with the media.

That’s why I laughed right out loud (giving Lily the Lap-Napping Cat a severe fright) when I read Pfizer Inc.’s recent press release about their rosy future ahead partnered with their new BFF, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Buried in the depths of this rambling release (and didn’t their Communications staff learn in PR school to keep these bloody things to one page max?) is the news that Pfizer has just formed something called an “Executive Compliance Committee”.

Let’s explore what this means.  Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, has been in the news lately because of what investigative journalist Ed Silverman on his always-intriguing Pharmalot website describes in this fashion:

“This innovative notion comes hard on the news that Pfizer paid a record-setting, ground-breaking, chair-swiveling, eye-rolling, jaw-dropping, $2.3 billion fine for illegally marketing several drugs, including Bextra, Zyvox, Geodon and Lyrica, over several years – even as other corporate integrity agreements were already in force.” 

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