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Pfizer Fraud

I was reminded of something I had put together for my office a couple of years ago, when I saw the amount of money that Pfizer (the large Pharmaceutical Company) brought in last year —- just short of 70 billion dollars.  Here is a little piece about two drugs put out by Pfizer — an ode to the myth of “EVIDENCE-BASED MEDICINE“.

Lyrica (generic name. Pregabalin) is an anti-convulsant drug used to treat nerve pain. It is also given for “partial” seizures in adults. In Europe it has been approved for “anxiety” as well. It’s manufacturer (Pfizer) designed it as a more potent successor to gabapentin that goes by the trade name Neurontin. These two drugs are stories unto themselves.

You may have heard of Neuronitin’s manufacturer Pfizer. They have been in the news lately. Not for anything good, mind you. They were recently (Sept 2009) on the receiving end of the biggest fine ever handed out by by the American Government. The U.S. Justice Department teamed up with the FDA to hit Pfizer with a 2.3 billion dollar fine (that is “billion” with a “b“) for illegally promoting four of its drugs for numerous unsubstantiated (off-label) uses, as well as recommending unsubstantiated (high) doses.  One of the four drugs was Lyrica. This is not the first time this sort of thing had happened with a Pfizer-made medication.

Five years earlier, in May of 2004, Pfizer pleaded guilty to criminal fraud in the promotion of Neurontin.  They agreed to pay a fine of 430 million dollars.  Although Neurontin was approved for limited use as a supplemental or secondary anti-seizure treatment for epilepsy, it was promoted by Pfizer and their stable of paid physicians, for everything from ADHD, mental illnesses, to a variety of pain conditions, including Migraine Headaches.  The May 14, 2004 issue of the Wall Street Journal reported that…

“Use of Neurontin for unapproved uses — estimated to account for 90% of the 2.7 billion dollars in sales last year — continues to rise despite stepped up prosocutorial efforts aimed at curbing the practice.  At the same time, studies prove that most of the unapproved use of Neuronitn is not even effective.”

The commercially successful marketing “miracle” of Nuerontin was achieved through a collaboration of Pfizer executives and big-name research doctors who were given huge financial incentives to encourage their fellow doctors (under the guise of  “Continuing Education“) to prescribe a drug for numerous things that it had been clinically-proven ineffective for.  Doctors were “educated” to use their position as a license to increase profits instead of helping patients. The Wall Street Journal reported in the same article that studies show that prescribing drugs for things they were never meant or scientifically proven to treat (off-label uses) is a huge problem in the pharmaceutical industry, and accounts for as much as 50% of all prescriptions. In 2005, seven drug manufacturers were served with subpoenas related to off-label marketing of their drugs.

It should be noted that Neuronitin and Lyrica are still on the market (HERE).  Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal estimates that this fine will not substantially affect the off-label prescription habits of doctors who have been conditioned to prescribe these drugs for who-knows-what kind of “off-label” uses.

Be aware that this is nothing new for Pfizer. The promotional tactics that made Pfizer’s drug, Zoloft (and other ANTI-DEPRESSION MEDICATIONS money machines), are not very different from the tactics used to promote Neurontin. The commercial success of antidepressants was achieved through the collaborative effort of the manufacturers and a consortium of leading psychiatrists, academic institutions (including the National Institute of Mental Health), and professional associations–such as, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, among others.  It would be appropriate to note that numerous scientific studies have proven a strong link between children taking anti-depressants and increased incidence of suicide.

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