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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How to translate Big Pharma’s PR-Speak into English

Purple money pills i stock 500  2That bad smell is the stench of yet another pharmaceutical company getting caught red-handed with their fingers in your wallet. If the folks at Pfizer Inc. had mugged you in the street and threatened your life, they’d all be in jail. But because they can afford a legal team that O.J. Simpson would have envied, they get off with a settlement of $2.3 billion.

That penalty seems small, however, compared to the $44.2 billion in pharmaceutical sales that the world’s largest drugmaker rang up last year.

Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman of Georgetown University acknowledges that, while $2.3 billion is a lot of money,

“…but these are highly profitable drugs. It will not take them very long to make up that deficit. Drug companies will continue this unless the financial downside makes it unprofitable.”

Pfizer has agreed to pay this penalty to settle charges that it illegally marketed the pain drug Bextra and three other medicines for so-called ‘off label’ uses that were not approved by the Food & Drug Administration. It’s the largest health care fraud settlement in the U.S. Justice Department’s history. Continue reading