Pfizer to Pay $1 Billion to Settle Illegal Promotion Charges

Drug company Pfizer has agreed to pay a total of $2.3 billion to settle the largest health care fraud case in U.S. history, according to the Justice Department. That includes a billion dollars alone to related to illegal promotion.

Pfizer pled guilty to a felony violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misbranding the drug Bextra, and agreed to resolve allegations of civil violations for promoting the drug for uses not specified or approved by the FDA.

For the first alleged violation, it agreed to pay $1.3 billion. For the second it will pony up another $1 billion.

At first glance, it  did not appear that the allegations about illegal promotion included any on-air advertising.  A Justice Department spokesperson said the pitches were confined to those made to physicians by drug company reps, and a single print ad in a journal targetted to physicians, rather than any direct-to-consumer TV or magazine ads.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) appeared to believe it dealt with commercials as well as physician promotion. "A record fine for Pfizer for illegal advertising that promotes off-label use of pharmaceuticals is a win for consumers but also highlights an issue that requires continued attention," Stupak said in a statement soon after the action by DOJ was announced. "Following my May 2008 hearing on direct-to-consumer advertising, [then] Chairman [John] Dingell and I wrote to the major drug companies requesting voluntary changes in their marketing practices to protect American consumers from manipulative commercials designed to mislead and deceive for profit. The pharmaceutical industry agreed to address three of our six requests, including an end to marketing of off-label use."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.