Eli Lilly To Pay $1.4B To Settle CRIMINAL Charges

The drug company Eli Lilly has settled civil and criminal charges lodged against the company for the marketing of it’s top-selling drug Zyprexa.  The drug was approved in 1996 only for use with severe schizophrenia and a specific type of bipolar disorder.  However, Lilly purposefully marketed the drug to “two categories of patients — children and the elderly — for whom the drug was not federally approved and in whom its use was especially risky” (NY Times, emphasis mine).  In it’s peddling of the drug to geriatricians, the company used the slogan “5 [mg] at 5 [o’clock]” to promote the drug’s ability to sedate the elderly into a state that would require less attention from those caring for them.

Unfortunately, all of this off-label use of Zyprexa was particularly dangerous since the drug “increases the risks of sudden death, heart failure and life-threatening infections like pneumonia in elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis” (NY Times).  Oh, and for those poor children given the drug, they faced severe weight-gain and metabolic disorders, like diabetes.  Yay!

Lilly made $1.19B from Zyprexa in the third quarter alone (CBS News) and it’s been estimated the drug has pulled-in $37B (CNN Money) since they started selling it in 1996, so I can’t help to think that $1.4B is kind of a drop in the bucket.  I would like to think that the fact that their actions reached the criminal threshold would have some impact on their professional reputation but as long as they find another, new wonder drug that can produce good quarterly earnings for their stockholders, I doubt this will have any lasting impact.

Sources and further reading: NY Times; CBS News; CNN Money.

Trivia: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the United States is the only country with direct-to-consumer marketing of drugs that require a doctor’s prescription.

Related: There was a highly-enlightening article in the Times in November 2007 about Wyeth’s marketing of Effexor XR, a drug that was originally marketed as the most effective SSRI available.  (A monumental claim, since the SSRI market is so expansive/lucrative.)  Unfortunately, Wyeth was lying about the efficacy of the drug and down-playing the side effects (like, oh, seizures) they knew existed.  The article follows one professional as he becomes a represenatative for Wyeth – a very profitable venture – and begins to peddle these falsehoods.  It’s a great read and I’d highly recommend it.  NY Times: Dr. Drug Rep.

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