Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, must pay a record $2.3b (€1.1bn) civil and criminal penalty over unlawful prescription drug promotions.
Announcing the settlement yesterday, the US Justice Department said that it included the largest criminal fine in American history – $1.2bn.
Authorities called Viagra maker Pfizer a repeat offender, saying it is the fourth such settlement of US government charges in the last decade. They said the US government will monitor the company’s conduct for the next five years to rein in the abuses.
To promote its drugs, Pfizer invited doctors to consultant meetings at resort locations, paying their expenses and providing perks.
Mike Loucks, the US attorney in Massachusetts, said: “They were entertained with golf, massages, and other activities.”
Mr Loucks said that even as Pfizer was negotiating deals on past misconduct, it was continuing to break the same laws with other drugs.
Six corporate whistleblowers who brought the misconduct to light will share 102 million dollars of the settlement money.
FBI assistant director Kevin Perkins praised the whistleblowers who decided to “speak out against a corporate giant that was blatantly violating the law and misleading the public through false marketing claims”.
The overall settlement is the largest ever paid by a drug company for alleged violations of federal drug rules.
The US government said the company promoted four prescription drugs, including the pain killer Bextra, as treatments for medical conditions different than those the drugs had been approved for by federal regulators.
Use of drugs for so-called “off-label” medical conditions is not uncommon, but drug manufacturers are prohibited from marketing drugs for uses that have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Bextra, one of a class of painkillers known as Cox-2 inhibitors, was pulled from the US market in 2005 amid mounting evidence that it raised the risk of heart attack, stroke and death.
The one billion dollars in civil penalties was related to Bextra and a number of other medicines.
Amy Schulman, senior vice president and general counsel of Pfizer, said: “These agreements bring final closure to significant legal matters and help to enhance our focus on what we do best – discovering, developing and delivering innovative medicines to treat patients dealing with some of the world’s most debilitating diseases.”