On Pfizer's Illegal Promotions

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 2, 2009 2:43 pm

I always thought it was strange to hear about the expense accounts of friends (with no science background) working in pharmaceutical sales. Over the years, they have shared stories about wining and dining doctors, taking them to Yankees games and Broadway shows and so on, explaining this is ‘standard marketing practice‘. Still, it’s always seemed to me that prescribing medication shouldn’t really be about receiving a flashy sales pitch so much as following the Hippocratic Oath, you know? Turns out, I’m not the only who thinks so

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pfizer Inc., the world’s largest drug maker, will pay a record $2.3 billion civil and criminal penalty over unlawful prescription drug promotions.

Announcing the settlement Wednesday, the Justice Department said that it included the largest criminal fine in U.S. history — $1.2 billion. The agreement also included a criminal forfeiture of $105 million.

Authorities called Pfizer a repeat offender, noting it is the fourth such settlement of government charges in the last decade. They said the government will monitor the company’s conduct for the next five years to rein in the abuses.

To promote the drugs, authorities said Pfizer invited doctors to consultant meetings at resort locations, paying their expenses and providing perks.

“They were entertained with golf, massages, and other activities,” said Mike Loucks, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts.

Loucks said that even as Pfizer was negotiating deals on past misconduct, they were continuing to violate the very same laws with other drugs.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture
MORE ABOUT: Pfizer

Comments (11)

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  1. On Pfizer’s Illegal Promotions | Ethiopian News | September 3, 2009
  1. Anna K.

    I’m glad to see those promotions are being prosecuted. My husband is a physician who has been a member of “No Free Lunch” for some years. It doesn’t have the ad budget of Pfizer, but it does have plenty of healthcare providers who are members:

    http://www.nofreelunch.org/

  2. MadScientist

    I’d seen the pharmacological industry go from mostly snake-oil to stuff that actually works but for the most part I’ve been ignorant of the extent to which it has slipped back into the snakeoil business in the past 30 years. Chemistry, medicine, and biology have all advanced well beyond the point where we know how to conduct honest tests and demonstrate a claim. It’s time to bring in even more strict regulations on the testing and sales of pharmaceuticals and “nutritional supplements”. Let Big Pharma prove its claims of general population benefits from “supplements” as well as pharmacological drugs. Make it a criminal offence to poison publications with biased or even falsified claims by Big Pharma’s ghostwriters. Put an end to the bullshit known as “alternative medicine”.

    I’d start out by requiring that *all* published articles fully disclose methods, data, funding sources, etc. and that this data be kept in a public and freely accessible (no access cost) database for anyone on the planet to read/download. Before anyone starts making public claims about anything, all requisite information must have already been put into the database. It would also be a great advantage if we also required that the methods, hypotheses, proposed scheme of analysis etc. be submitted *before* an experiment is conducted. This will help cut down on “result mining” of the data – so if your hypothesis falls flat on its face in light of the information, you’d better have a damned good reason for proposing another analysis method and claiming results in retrospect.

  3. ponderingfool

    Of course the lavishing won’t change. The junkets, etc. will continue. Those are not illegal. What Pfizer got caught was marketing the drugs for non-approved uses and making false claims about the drugs themselves while on these junkets. That likely won’t stop. Pfizer has been hit before and kept doing this. Why? It makes them $$$$, which they are legally obligated to try and make for their shareholders. Settlements with the government are part of the business model. The marketing and settlements are built into the price of the drugs.

  4. Miss Sheril,
    I too have shared your wonderment, but I have to ask – how much of Pfizer’s annula profit does $1.2 Billion represent? Yes, its a big fine, and yes, it shows the Administration is sort of serious about penalizing this kind of thing. But many years of watching the petro-chemical industry pollute because the fines were a “cheap” cost of doing business they way they wanted has taught me that what appear to you and I to be big fines are often a drop in the bucket profit wise fir the fined company. Now if the fine wer ein the nature of 10 or 15% of annula profit – that would hit them hard.

  5. Gadfly

    Agreed. And when a company such as Pfizer is in the business of bringing, by definition, proprietary products to market — which they dictate the price of — all they need do is up the cost to the consumer to make that fine back. Our practice of simply fining large companies because it is too difficult to prosecute individuals needs to stop or be reined in. Someone high up in the company is stipulating this behaviour. Those individuals need to pay a personal price. Then maybe, in time, the behaviour will change.

  6. ARJ

    Can’t help but think that Pfizer is being made an example for ills that permeate most of the major pharmaceuticals, and may not change much in the long-run.
    On a different front I wish the Gov’t. would outlaw the insipid, shameful direct-to-consumer ads that BigPharma now routinely run.

  7. Sorbet

    The junkets are not illegal but there are strict limits on how much a company employee can spend on a physician. They descriptions make it pretty clear that these limits were exceeded.

  8. Slowly But Surly

    I can’t help but notice the ‘pig doc’ Pfizer add in the upper left hand corner of this page ;) I guess thats better than the previous viral/roll over adds whose close button took the viewer to a advertisement url. Yep, Pfizer advertising is a real class act.

  9. MadScientist

    I agree with Gadfly – once you start sending people to prison they won’t be so willing to play the stooge. Make ‘em long prison sentences though; you can still find a stooge to spend, say, 5 years in prison if they’re getting a few million for it. So either a long sentence or any past of future rewards for the activity are proceeds of crime and must be confiscated – except that the confiscation model means spending huge amounts of money on other investigations.

  10. Eric the Leaf

    Big pharma, big banks, big insurance, and wall street run the country. “We” gave coorporations the rights of individuals in the late 1800s. Perhpas big oil runs the country, or the world, but most of the world’s oil is in the hands of national governments, not private companies. So what’s the real problem, and by that I mean not only the power of the large corporation and related interests, but to begin to change the subject, the larger global human predicament, of which this is just one economic manifestation. Well, I don’t know exactly, but I think to get a handle one needs to take a long, by which I mean several hundred thousand year history of humans, view of the issue. The great transitions in history were intimately tied to developments in energy and resource procurement (as would be the case for any organism)–the regular use of fire, takeover of wild habitats for food production (domestication of plants and animals), exploitation of renewable energy faster than its replacement, and finally the drawdown of ancient sunlight that has powered the rise of industrial civilization. The rise of the giant corporation has paralleled, initially, the era of European Colonization, a giant resource and energy (think slavery) grab to relieve the pressure of an overexploited continent. Subsequently, massive abundance of fossil energy powered the descretionary spending and political power of the rising middle class (poor slobs like us have access to protein unheard of throughout vast portions of the agricultural history of humans). The entire industrial experience as well as the current economic superstructure, was financed by debt, which is now largely decoupled from items of true physcial value–matter and energy. We are slaves to debt and interest economies and to the downright necessity of economic growth, in fact growth of all kinds, now largely embodied by the interests of the corporate supergiants, and severly threatened. The beast must be fed. Growth is our god (sorry, atheists). If only religion or science illiteracy were what threaten America’s future.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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