Pfizer has settled with the Justice Department, agreeing to pay $2.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties. It's a big deal, but for whom? Hidden behind the settlement are the thousands of people who have suffered and died because of Pfizer's drugs and marketing, but they won't get a thing. I just don't get a warm and fuzzy over this. Watching the posturing of government officials as they pose for the cameras with their serious faces and proclamations looks like business as usual.
Can't you picture them, huddled together, worried about the public's growing awareness of pharmaceutical corruption, trying to figure out how to make it look like they're doing something to protect us? Let's listen:
"Mr. X at Mega Pharmaceuticals is threatening to pull their support for my candidate's campaign. We've gotta do something!"
"Yeah, but those news reports about drugs being pushed for stuff they're not approved for..."
"I know, I know! But they've got us over a barrel. If we don't do something, my guy won't get reelected. We need to make it look like something's being done. Get the public's attention off this stuff — make it look like we're protecting 'em from Big Pharma."
"I've got an idea. Mega's got a ton of money for marketing, right? It's part of the cost of doing business. Let's see if they'll go along with a big fine. Y'know, a coupla billion. That looks like big bucks to most folk."
"Not bad...yeah. Let's do it. We'll make a big production of it — get our pictures in the papers. Be good guys. Uh...do ya think Mega Pharmaceuticals will go along?!
"Sure! They'll act contrite, put on a big show, and find a way to raise prices to cover it. No harm done. It's just a cost of doing business."
Think it sounds far-fetched? Let's put it in perspective. This year, Pfizer agreed to purchase another pharmaceutical giant, Wyeth, for — sit down, hold your breath — $68 billion. What's $2.3 billion to them? In fact, they didn't even try to act contrite over their misdeeds.
This is the fourth time in a single decade that Pfizer has been fined for illegal marketing. The new settlement is the biggest ever. It's for marketing drugs, especially Bextra, for conditions that were never approved by the FDA. It's legal for doctors to do this, but not for drug companies to push their products for that purpose.