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Amber Scott
Amber Scott
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Is the DOJ-GSK settlement a slap on the wrist?

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How many government agencies does it take to bring down a pharmaceutical giant like GlaxoSmithKline? By my count, nine, according to the Department of Justice website:

  1. the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General;
  2. the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations
  3. the Defense Criminal Investigative Service of the Department of Defense;
  4. the Office of the Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management;
  5. the Department of Veterans Affairs;
  6. the Department of Labor;
  7. TRICARE Program Integrity, which investigates health care fraud (WMFD.com reported that Ohio Medicaid will get $40,255,498.34 in recoveries from GlaxoSmithKline’s multi-billion dollar settlement);
  8. the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service;
  9. and the FBI.

How many years did it take? It depends which count of misconduct you're referring to. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that GlaxoSmithKline’s misconduct, as it pertained to Avandia, began in the late ‘90s and continued through 2007. The same article later stated that “[p]art of civil fines address allegations that, from 1994 to 2003, GSK underpaid money owed to Medicaid.” Bloomberg reported the same day that federal prosecutors began investigating GSK in 2004 for promoting drugs for off-label uses and influencing doctors to prescribe its medications.

For instance, Forbes reported that the company hired “a long list of experts,” including Dr. Drew Pinsky of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab, to push Wellbutrin for unapproved uses like weight loss and treatment for sexual dysfunction. Pinsky was paid $275,000 in two months for promoting the drug. Likewise, Reuters reported that other doctors were paid in meals and spa treatments. The Los Angeles Times said that while doctors are allowed to prescribe pills for off-label uses, pharmaceutical companies aren’t allowed to market them for those off-label uses.

The company also allegedly marketed Paxil to minors despite being approved for adults over age 18, according to Reuters.

Similarly, GSK promoted Zofran for morning sickness and pregnant women despite the fact the FDA only approved the drug to treat post-operative nausea.

According to Bloomberg, GSK set aside $3.5 billion last year to pay for the settlement. The Department of Justice’s website says the company's $3 billion settlement is the largest in history and the most ever paid by a drug company. The Huffington Post says the settlement amounts to a slap on the wrist. What do you think?