Pharmaceutical companies are some of the most egregious corporate lawbreakers in the world. The offences include poor manufacturing practices, kickbacks, the sale of tainted drugs and outright deception and fraud. They can afford to employ an army of attorneys and keep legal matters tied up in the court system for a decade or more. They have paid billions of dollars in fines over the last ten years, much of it as punishment for criminal behaviour. This may be shocking information, but when we look at the origins of some of these pharmaceutical companies it’s not surprising, after all. You can find out more about the history of Bayer on this website .
The following information on the criminal history of the pharmaceutical industry is taken directly from Propublica.org, as reported by Lena Groeger and taken from Department of Justice data:
*Added by author
📍Pfizer — September 2009:
“Pfizer was fined $2.3 billion, then the largest health care fraud settlement and the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States. Pfizer pled guilty to misbranding the painkiller Bextra with “the intent to defraud or mislead”, promoting the drug to treat acute pain at dosages the FDA had previously deemed dangerously high. Bextra was pulled from the market in 2005 due to safety concerns. The government alleged that Pfizer also promoted three other drugs illegally: the antipsychotic Geodon, an antibiotic Zyvox, and the antiepileptic drug Lyrica.”
📍GlaxoSmithKline — July 2012:
“GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay a fine of $3 billion to resolve civil and criminal liabilities regarding its promotion of drugs, as well as its failure to report safety data. This is the largest health care fraud settlement in the United States to date. The company pled guilty to misbranding the drug Paxil for treating depression in patients under 18, even though the drug had never been approved for that age group.
GlaxoSmithKline also pled guilty to failing to disclose safety information about the diabetes drug Avandia to the FDA.”
*China fined GSK $488 million after finding them guilty of creating a “massive bribery network.”
📍Johnson & Johnson — November 2013:
“Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay a $2.2 billion fine to resolve criminal and civil allegations relating to the prescription drugs Risperdal, Invega and Natrecor. The government alleged that J&J promoted these drugs for uses not approved as safe and effective by the FDA, targeted elderly dementia patients in nursing homes, and paid kickbacks to physicians and to the nation’s largest long-term care pharmacy provider, Omnicare Inc. As part of the agreement, Johnson & Johnson admitted that it promoted Risperdal for treatment of psychotic symptoms in non-schizophrenic patients, although the drug was approved only to treat schizophrenia.”
*Here is an excellent expose presented by The Huffington Post and written by Steven Brill about Johnson & Johnson called “Americas Most Admired Lawbreaker.”
📍Merck — 2011, 2012 & 2014:
“Merck agreed to pay a fine of $950 million related to the illegal promotion of the painkiller Vioxx, which was withdrawn from the market in 2004 after studies found the drug increased the risk of heart attacks. The company pled guilty to having promoted Vioxx as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis before it had been approved for that use. The settlement also resolved allegations that Merck made false or misleading statements about the drug’s heart safety to increase sales.”
*Merck continued to promote Vioxx for years after knowing that it was dangerous. For more insight into Merck’s response to the deadly drug Vioxx, you can take a look at this Wall Street Journal article from 2004 or this New York Times article from 2011. Merck created a drug that doubled the incidence of heart attacks and sat on that information for more than four years before they pulled the drug off the market. They subsequently paid $950 million dollars in civil and criminal fines for their handling of the Vioxx catastrophe. We cover this case in more detail in part 4 of this series.
In 2012, two scientists from Merck, Stephen A. Krahling and Joan A. Wlochowski filed suit against the company claiming the drug maker falsified data on the MMR vaccine. In the lawsuit, Merck is accused of destroying data and submitting falsified data to the FDA. The scientists also accused Merck of threatening to jail them if they went public. Merck has been delaying and trying to get the case thrown out, but in 2015 a judge upheld the action.
Here is just one paragraph from the complaint:
“Third, Merck took steps to cover up the tracks of its fraudulent testing by destroying evidence of the falsified data and then lying to an FDA investigator that questioned Merck about its ongoing testing. Merck also attempted to buy the silence and cooperation of its staff by offering them financial incentives to follow the direction of the Merck personnel overseeing the fraudulent testing process. Merck also threatened a relator in the Qui Tarn Action, Stephen Krahling, a virologist in Merck’s vaccine division from 1999 to 2001, with jail if he reported the fraud to the FDA.”
*In 2014, after being secretly recorded, a senior epidemiologist from the CDC came out and said that he and his co-authors destroyed data from a 2004 study on Merck’s MMR vaccine which linked the drug with an over 300% increase in autism in African American boys under age 3. You can read more about this story, Dr. William Thompson’s admission and CDC’s involvement in the cover-up in part 4 of this series.
Here is a quote from Dr. Thompson:
“It’s all there. This is the lowest point in my career, that I went along with that paper. I have great shame now when I meet families of kids with autism, because I have been part of the problem.”
After seeing this evidence it is not surprising that the then head of CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding, went on to head up Merck’s multi-billion dollar vaccine division where she has somehow acquired almost 5 million of dollars worth of Merck stock. To be fair, it is unclear to us how Dr. Gerberding acquired so much Merck stock, but it does make the conflict of interest look even worse.
📍Eli Lilly — January 2009:
“Eli Lilly was fined $1.42 billion to resolve a government investigation into the off-label promotion of the antipsychotic Zyprexa. Zyprexa had been approved for the treatment of certain psychotic disorders, but Eli Lilly admitted to promoting the drug in elderly populations to treat dementia. The government also alleged that they targeted primary care physicians to promote Zyprexa for unapproved uses and “trained its sales force to disregard the law.”