Drug Marketing Campaigns Still a Problem

The Wall St. Journal has been tracking the fines levied by the US Justice Department and the FDA for quite some time now. The names of drug company offenders includes the biggest drug companies in the United States and reads like a veritable Who’s Who of big pharma. The list includes Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Novartis, and Astra Zeneca, to name a few. In spite of the multi-million dollar fines, pharmaceutical companies continue to skirt the law and illegally promote their drug products. The simple answer is the marketing strategy is financially beneficial. While the fines are stiff in overall terms, they are comparatively cheap relative to pharmaceutical company profits. When drug companies are raking in sales up to $300 billion a year, a multi-million dollar fine is negligible and ineffective at curbing the practice.
According to the Wall St. Journal article, “Improper marketing often occurs when drug companies are promoting therapies that are similar to others on the market, says Patrick Burns, director of communications at Taxpayers Against Fraud, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C. “In that kind of marketplace, the business isn’t about the drug. It’s about the kickback and it’s about market expansion through illegal promotion,” he said.
One of the most common illegal tactics companies use is “off-label” marketing, when sales reps encourage doctors to prescribe drugs for uses for which they aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Doctors themselves are allowed to prescribe drugs any way they see fit, but the law says companies can’t promote them for unapproved uses.
The government has also accused companies of making payments to doctors to get them to prescribe certain drugs, both on and off-label. These payments can take several forms that are often legitimate, including consulting fees and research grants. Corporate whistleblowers often draw the government’s attention to alleged wrongdoing, sparking federal investigations.”