Foreign intrigue: when drug companies bribe doctors

Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company (at least until their blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor truly loses its patent protection for real) has reached a legal agreement in principle to resolve a foreign bribery investigation. A final deal could be struck by the end of the month, according to an SEC filing reported on Pharmalot. Three months ago, Pfizer officials said they had “voluntarily” provided information about “potentially improper payments” made by unspecified Pfizer and its Wyeth subsidiaries in connection with sales activities “in countries other than the U.S.”

The other countries were not named.

The move, as described by Pharmalot, comes amid increased scrutiny by the U.S. government into the pharmaceutical industry and its interactions with foreign health care systems.

“In late 2009, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division warned drugmakers that there will be more criminal enforcement against interactions with foreign officials as they seek violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).”

And he apparently meant it.  Continue reading

Paying illegal kickbacks to doctors: just the cost of doing business for Big Pharma?

The drug company Novartis has agreed to pay $422.5 million in criminal and civil penalties for promoting illegal use of its epilepsy drug Trileptaland five other Novartis drugs, the U.S. Department of Justice announced recently. The cases charged the company with promoting off-label use of Trileptal for medical conditions it had not been tested or approved to treat, and also for its illegal targeted marketing efforts.

The marketing efforts that prosecutors took exception to included paying kickbacks to physicians to encourage them to prescribe more of these drugs.

Now, that word kickbacks is a loaded word, and one that I’d imagine the docs who have been accepting this drug money would not likely ever use themselves.   Continue reading

Is your surgeon able to understand simple instructions?

I like to think that most surgeons are very brainy people. You don’t get through all those years of university, med school and residency unless you’re able to understand instructions. Yet that’s what a puzzling 29% of orthopedic surgeons were apparently unable to do, according to a conflict-of-interest study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It all started when, in order to avoid facing legal action, several companies who manufacture hip and knee implants agreed in 2007 to publicly disclose about $270 million worth of cash payments they’d made to orthopedic surgeons.

This agreement was part of a U.S. Justice Department investigation in which prosecutors accused these companies of violating anti-kickback laws by paying the physicians to use their products. This concerned the researchers, who said they felt a duty to alert the public to potential conflicts of interest that may colour how doctors treat patients when docs are on the take from product manufacturers Continue reading