Federal prosecutors hit Pfizer Inc. with a record-breaking $2.3 billion in fines Wednesday and called the world's largest drug maker a repeating corporate cheat for illegal drug promotions that plied doctors with free golf, massages, and resort junkets.
Announcing the penalty as a warning to all drug manufacturers, Justice Department officials said the overall settlement is the largest ever paid by a drug company for alleged violations of federal drug rules, and the $1.2 billion criminal fine is the largest ever in any U.S. criminal case. The total includes $1 billion in civil penalties and a $100 million criminal forfeiture, The Associated Press reports.
Prosecutors said the payments reflected the "size and seriousness" of Pfizer's infringements. Tom Perrelli, the associate attorney general, said it was a victory for the public over "those who seek to earn a profit through fraud".
Perrelli said: "Every year we lose tens of billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid funds to fraud. Those billions represent healthcare dollars that could be spent on medicine, elder care or emergency room visits but instead are spent on medicines or devices that are simply not effective for patients to whom they are prescribed," Guardian.co.uk
Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, entered into a five- year “integrity” agreement with the Health and Human Services Department as well. The government pays for medicines through several health programs and joined the investigation after private “whistleblowers” filed lawsuits in three states. The criminal case revolved around allegations that the painkiller Bextra and three other medicines were promoted for uses other than those approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“When a drug is marketed or promoted for non- authorized, so-called off-label uses, any use not approved by the FDA -- as was the case here -- public health may be at risk,” Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli said today at a news conference in Washington, Bloomberg reports.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969