Monday, November 15, 2010

Going After The Big Pharma Mafia

We have the pharmaceutical industry to thank for many things, including my being able to write this post. I take a number of meds in the wake of a fairly minor stroke eight years ago and what otherwise would be crippling rheumatoid arthritis. This enables me to not only blog, but have an active lifestyle.

But there is a dark side to Big Pharma, which has morphed before our eyes from for-profit do-gooders to what arguably has become an enormous criminal enterprise akin to the Mafia where profits trump everything.

The pushback against Big Pharma's excesses had been fairly restrained during the Bush Era, and the Roberts-led Supreme Court has obligingly scratched drug makers' tummies with a series of rulings that are mostly in their favor.

Most notorious of these rulings was one validating a legal concept called preemption in the case of lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson by women who were maimed -- and the families of women who were killed -- after using a birth-control patch that released more estrogen than J&J claimed. Internal documents revealed that J&J was aware that the product was mislabeled, but the court ruled that because the Food and Drug Administration had approved the patch, it could not be sued.

But I digress . . .

The Obama administration has been considerably more aggressive in pushing back against Big Pharma's misanthropy, but manufacturers have greeted enormous fines of hundreds of millions of dollars in drug-fraud cases with practiced shrugs and literally write them off as the cost of doing business like the Mafia writes off an occasional foot soldier or consigliere.

But now the Justice Department is striking back where it hurts -- against individual drug company executives and not the companies themselves -- who are threatened with jail time.

Lauren C. Stevens, a GlaxoSmithKline executive, has been charged with making false statements and obstructing a federal investigation in denying that doctors speaking at company events had promoted the drug Wellbutrin for uses not approved by the FDA.

"This is absolutely precedent-setting -- this is really going to set people’s hair on fire," said Douglas B. Farquhar, a Washington lawyer.

And is about time.

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