Gabapentin, sold by Pfizer under the brand name Neurontin, is a medicine used to help manage certain epileptic seizures and as a pain relief medication for certain conditions such as shingles.
The New York Times investigation alleged that off-label use of Neurontin, which Pfizer heavily promoted, helped propel the drug's sales to nearly $3 billion a year before losing its patent protection in 2004 due to the illegal off-label use promotion.
The Big Pharma company also suppressed other research that would have disproven its claims regarding Neurontin's supposed usefulness in treating other conditions. (Related: Pfizer has a shockingly long history of engaging in illegal activities and human experimentation.)
Pfizer's tactics for suppressing relevant research regarding Neurontin included forcing publications to delay the release of studies that found no evidence the drug worked for other disorders, "spinning" negative data to make it sound positive and bundling together negative findings with positive findings to neutralize results.
All of this was meant to convince physicians not as knowledgeable about Neurontin that it is an effective medication for disorders other than seizures.
"Pfizer continued with the medical marketing firms and planted marketing messages in journal articles that Neurontin was effective while they knew that their own clinical trials had failed to demonstrate it was effective," said lawyer Thomas Greene, who represented several groups in a case against Pfizer's off-label promotion of the drug.
For several years, both before and after the release of the New York Times investigation, Pfizer has been forced to pay steep penalties for its illegal off-label promotion of Neurontin.
In 2004, four years before the investigation, Pfizer agreed to plead guilty to two felonies and pay a fine of $430 million to settle charges that it fraudulently promoted Neurontin for use in dealing with other disorders.
In the settlement, now-defunct Pfizer subsidiary Warner-Lambert took all the blame for aggressively marketing the seizure drug for unrelated conditions, including bipolar disorder, general pain, migraine headaches and drug and alcohol addiction withdrawal.
The settlement includes a criminal fine of $240 million, which at the time was the second-largest fine ever imposed on a Big Pharma company for healthcare fraud, and $152 million to pay back how much Medicare and Medicaid programs spent acquiring Neurontin.
In 2010, a jury in a federal court in Boston once again found Pfizer guilty of marketing fraud due to Neurontin and told the company to pay $142.1 million in damages.
The jury, which deliberated for two days on the case, found that Pfizer engaged in a racketeering conspiracy over a 10-year period and violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) under California's Unfair Competition Law.
The case was brought up by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, which both claimed that Pfizer illegally promoted Neurontin for unapproved uses and that the Big Pharma company forced Kaiser to pay $90 million more than it should have for the seizure medication.
In 2014, Pfizer was forced to pay steep fines twice in two different cases that were settled that same year. In April, 2014, Pfizer agreed to pay $190 million to settle a federal antitrust lawsuit claiming that the company attempted some illegal maneuvering to keep cheaper generic alternatives to Neurontin off the market. In June, 2014, Pfizer agreed to pay another $325 million to wrap up claims that another of its subsidiaries, Parke-Davis, promoted Neurontin for off-brand use without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.
Overall, Pfizer was fined around $1.087 billion from 2004 to 2014 for its illegal off-label promotion of Neurontin.
Learn more about Pfizer and other Big Pharma companies at BigPharmaNews.com.
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