August 2, 2012 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

It was reported in the New York Times earlier this month that GlaxoSmithKline was fined three billion (yes billion!) dollars by the feds to settle civil and criminal penalties for illegally promoting ten of its drugs. In May the drug firm Abbott Laboratories was fined 1.6 billion (yes billion!) dollars for illegally promoting their drug Depakote. In April Johnson & Johnson was fined 1.2 billion (yes billion!) dollars in Arkansas for marketing practices of their drug Risperdal. We can keep this short by primarily reporting fines from this year and those in the billion-plus range. I do feel the need to recall Pfizer’s 2.3 (yes billion!) dollar fine in 2009 for illegal marketing of Bextra. Taxpayers Against Fraud reports over ten billion in such settlements and civil and criminal penalties during the current fiscal year.

How can pharmaceutical companies engage in such costly activities on an ongoing basis? It turns out that what seems like a lot of money to you and me is not so much to these huge corporations. Avandia, Paxil, and Wellbutrin, just three of the ten drugs that GlaxoSmithKline was marketing this way had sales of over 25 billion (again, yes billion!) during the ten year period covered by the settlement. According to Patrick Burns, spokesman for Taxpayers Against Fraud, this “can be rationalized as the cost of doing business.” The market apparently agrees that this is a reasonable cost to do business as these fines barely registered in terms of the valuation of stock in these companies. Implicit in this conclusion is that these companies are making a purposeful decision to act in this manner and thus could be considered criminal enterprises.

We all need to ask ourselves if this seems reasonable and acceptable way for these companies to conduct their affairs. I think it is not. What do you think? If you agree with me then what is the appropriate type of sanctions for such infractions. I would suggest that the appropriate action must be something that exceeds the reasonable cost of doing business. Perhaps this could be in the form of much more costly settlements. However, the sanctions most likely to be effective should include criminal prosecution and jail time for company executives. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.
1 comments | Topics: Bioethics and Public Policy , Bioethics and the Law , Drug Safety , Pharmaceuticals



Farooq wrote on 08/10/12 2:28 PM

Excellent points. This unethical and criminal onslaught by the Pharma mafia in promoting their businesses and increasing their sales by any means available needs to be checked. I am all for the jail time for the senior executives. You have to jail only one or two of these big crooks and every body else will get the message.

Add A Comment
(it will not be displayed)

BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.