Is Big Pharma Too Big To Punish?

In previous blog, I mentioned a recent settlement which I obtained for a client from the fund created by the class action against Pfizer concerning Bextra. The client suffered a devastating stroke as a result of taking prescribed high doses of Bextra.

In 2009, Pfizer settled U.S. criminal charges arising out of the Bextra fraud for a total of $2.3 billion. Bextra was approved to treat arthritis and menstrual cramps, but amazingly, was no more powerful than Ibuprofen, while causing damage to heart, brain and skin.

Pfizer brought back to the United States $37 billion in order to take advantage of a one-time tax break that year, so paying the $2.3 billion fine was not a problem. The fine was the largest fine of any kind ever but amounted to less than three weeks of Pfizer sales.

This was Pfizer’s fourth settlement for fraud since 2002.

U.S. prosecutors also allow pharma defendants to set up dummy corporations to pay the fines.  The reason is that U.S. law would prohibit fraudster pharma companies from selling to big U.S. purchasers of drugs such as Medicaid and Medicare. So to facilitate settlement, ways are found to avoid the prohibition.

To truly achieve deterrence and modification of wrongful behavior, the law would need to confiscate all of the profits made by fraudulent sale of drugs, and also impose further significant penalties on the perpetrators of drug fraud.

No matter how many prosecutions undertaken and gargantuan fines levied, and no matter how many class action lawsuits are launched and settled, big pharma still makes money. The big pharma companies may be just too big and too rich for the law to control.