by Anthony Chicotel, CANHR Staff Attorney
When it comes to illegal marketing of mind-bending psychotropic drugs, the beat goes on. In the past few weeks, Abbott Laboratories agreed to pay at least $1.3 billion to the U.S. and multiple state governments and GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay the U.S. $3 billion for mis-marketing various drugs.
The Abbott case was focused on the anti-seizure medication Depakote, which is often used to treat bi-polar illness as well as to chemically restrain residents of long-term care facilities who have dementia. Depakote is a particularly popular drug to restrain residents without their consent or even their knowledge because it comes in a capsule form (often called Depakote “Sprinkles”) that can be broken and surreptitiously added to someone’s food. Abbott’s settlement was made, in part, to address illegal off-label marketing of Depakote for the treatment of dementia, despite the drug’s known dangers.
In the GlaxoSmithKline case, the U.S. government targeted the illegal marketing of several of its top-selling drugs as well as alleged Medicaid fraud. Some of the Glaxo drugs at issue were the popular anti-depressants Paxil and Wellbutrin, which are frequently prescribed in nursing homes to “control” dementia, and Lamictal, another anti-seizure medication. Although the $3 billion settlement is believed to be the largest ever involving illegal marketing of drugs, the figure was described as a “speed bump” for a company that takes in nearly $50 billion in annual revenue.
A billion here and a billion there. The lawsuits and subsequent settlements of the illegal off-label marketing of drugs, especially those heralded as “treatment” for dementia, have reinforced the culpability of big pharma in the current epidemic misuse of psych drugs in nursing homes. Despite the billions lost, big pharma will not yield on the mis-marketing issue. A number of pharmaceutical companies are currently mounting a legal campaign to overturn the federal ban on off-label marketing, citing their free speech rights.