By Dr. Mercola
Millions of people around the world put their health and their very lives in the hands of drug companies, depending on their products to fight disease and stay well.
What is often overlooked is that these companies are among the greatest white-collar criminals around, engaging in fraudulent research, data manipulation, misleading advertising and, as investigations in China have recently revealed, extensive bribery.
Can you really trust that the products made by companies regularly engaged in criminal activities will be safe? That they’ll be effective as claimed? That they won’t end up worsening your health in the long run?
In many cases the answer is ‘no,’ you cannot, as it’s proven time and again that drug companies are interested in protecting their profits, first, even if it’s at the expense of people’s health.
Eli Lilly: Nearly $5 Billion Spent to Bribe Chinese Doctors
Allegations in the 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese newspaper, claim that bribery and illegal payments were widespread at Eli Lilly’s China operations.
The allegations come from a whistleblower, a former senior manager for Eli Lilly, who says bribes of $4.9 million were given out from 2011 to 2012 to ‘persuade’ doctors to prescribe Eli Lilly products, especially its Humalog and Humulin insulins, over competitors’.
The investigation is ongoing, but this isn’t the first time Eli Lilly has faced such allegations. In 2012, the company agreed to pay $29 million to settle US charges that its subsidiaries made ‘improper payments’ to foreign government officials in order to secure business in Russia, Brazil, China and Poland.
In 2009, Eli Lilly also paid $1.4 billion for promoting Zyprexa for off-label uses, often to children and the elderly, and not properly divulging side effect information. For instance, Zyprexa was marketed as a sleeping aid for the elderly because one of its side effects is sedation, even though the drug also increases the risk of death.
So if you rely on drugs to stay well, or believe that if you get sick one day you'll simply take a medication to "get better," it's worth recognizing that the same companies that are manufacturing and promoting those drugs have probably been convicted of criminal and fraudulent charges. Such practices aren’t isolated to Eli Lilly; they’re widespread in the drug industry.
China Also Investigates Sanofi for Bribing Doctors
Last year, drug maker Sanofi agreed to pay $109 million to resolve US allegations that it gave free drugs to physicians as a form of kickbacks, which violates the False Claims Act.
The company allegedly gave out thousands of free "samples" of the arthritis drug Hyalgan that were contingent on future purchases and essentially used to lower the drug's effective price. Sanofi then submitted false average sales price reports, which are used to determine reimbursements rates from Medicare and other government health programs, thereby causing the government to pay inflated rates for the drug.1
Now, Chinese authorities are investigating Sanofi’s activities following claims from a former employee, which allege that Sanofi bribed more than 500 doctors to prescribe their medications, disguising the money as research program grants. It’s also alleged that the company has been paying doctors for each successful prescription written for their drugs, a practice dating back to 2007.
Novartis Also Accused of Bribery in China
Yet another former drug-company employee turned whistleblower has claimed that Novartis ordered her to bribe doctors in order to increase sales of their cancer drug, Sandostatin LAR. According to the former sales rep’s claims, her supervisor advised her to pay kickbacks to doctors who prescribed five doses of the drug.
As a result of this and other emerging claims, China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce says they’re launching a three-month probe into corruption in the pharmaceutical and medical services business, including criminal activities such as bribery, fraud and anti-competitive business practices.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is also currently investigating 60 foreign and domestic drug companies over potentially illegal pricing practices. Do you sense a pattern yet? If not, here’s one more case to add to the list…
GlaxoSmithKline Accused of Paying Kickbacks to Doctors, Hospitals and Government Officials
In 2012, China’s pharmaceutical market grew by 20 percent, a hefty increase now believed to be at least partly the result of years’ worth of bribery and scandal. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), in particular, has faced above-average growth in the region, with its stock outperforming its competitor’s nearly 2 to 1 in 2012.
The company’s super growth appears to be backed by illegal marketing strategies, which actually encourage bribery. Allegations have been made, in fact, that GSK paid kickbacks to doctors, hospitals and government officials, using travel agencies as middlemen to carry out the illegal acts. Doctors and government officials reportedly received perks such as travel, cash and even sexual favors that when combined, amounted to nearly $5 billion, according to some reports.
Four Chinese GSK executives have been detained and accused of bribe collaboration so far in the six-month long investigation. British national Mark Reilly, GSK’s head of Chinese operations, reportedly left China in June.
Like most other drug companies, GSK is no stranger to criminal allegations. In 2012, they paid $3 billion for illegal marketing of Paxil and Welbutrin and downplaying safety risks of Avandia, among other charges. The company hid data about drug risks, marketed drugs for unapproved uses, and paid doctors (or gave them lavish gifts like expensive vacations) for prescribing their drugs. One of the most high-profile accounts involved television celebrity Dr. Drew, who reportedly received $275,000 from GSK to promote Welbutrin to treat sexual dysfunction associated with depression even though it hasn't been proven effective for this purpose.
Why US Drug Companies’ Criminal Behaviors Are Unlikely to Change
If Chinese authorities find the drug companies guilty of bribery and other charges, they promised to hand down ‘severe punishment.’2 What that means, exactly, remains to be seen, but in the US, drug company punishments often amount to a mere slap on the wrist for the drug company, which typically will continue right along with their deceitful behaviors.
Big Pharma lawsuits, especially those that settle in the hundreds of millions or billions, are intended to compel these criminal corporations to straighten out, abandon their fraud and deception, their kickbacks, price-setting, bribery and all other illegal sales activities in favor of looking out for public health, but to date this has been clearly ineffective. This is evidenced by the stunning frequency with which these major settlements occur:3
- 2007: Bristol-Myers Squibb paid $515 million for illegally promoting its atypical antipsychotic drug Abilify to kids and seniors (despite a black box warning that warned of potentially fatal side effects in the elderly). Other accusations included giving payments, kickbacks and expensive vacations to medical professionals and pharmacist to dispense its drugs.
- 2010: AstraZeneca settled for $520 million for trying to persuade doctors to prescribe its psychotropic drug Seroquel for unapproved uses ranging from Alzheimer's disease and ADHD to sleeplessness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Using Seroquel for improper use has been linked to an increased risk of death.
Company executives also promoted the drug for weight loss, highlighting one favorable study while burying others that linked it to substantial weight gain.
- 2007: Purdue Pharma paid $634.5 million for fraudulently misbranding Oxycontin, and suggesting it was less addictive and less abused than other painkillers. The company was charged with using misleading sales tactics, minimizing risks and promoting it for uses for which it was not appropriately studied.
- 2012: Amgen, the makers of anemia drugs Aranesp and Epogen, has been accused of handing extra profits to doctors who prescribe the drugs (by overfilling vials, then allowing doctors to charge insurance companies for drugs they got for free). Other accusations include misconduct involving claims of safety and efficacy, marketing, pricing and dosing of the drugs. Amgen has agreed to pay $762 million to settle the suits.
- 2011: Merck settles for $950 million to resolve fraudulent marketing allegations and safety claims related to Vioxx. Vioxx was pulled from the market in 2004, after it was shown to double the risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition to the $950 million, Merck paid hundreds of millions more to harmed patients and their families (Vioxx contributed to causing heart attacks in up to 140,000 people, half of which were fatal).
- 2009: Eli Lilly pays $1.4 billion for promoting Zyprexa for off-label uses, often to children and the elderly, and not properly divulging side effect information. For instance, Zyprexa was marketed as a sleeping aid for the elderly because one of its side effects is sedation, even though the drug also increases the risk of death.
- 2012: Abbott Laboratories settles for $1.5 billion for aggressively promoting their seizure drug Depakote for off-label use in elderly dementia patients, despite lacking evidence of safety or effectiveness (and a known increase of serious side effects, like anorexia, in the elderly).
- Currently pending: Johnson & Johnson will pay anywhere from $1.5 to $2 billion for illegal marketing of Risperdal and other drugs. The company not only heavily marketed drugs to children and the elderly despite inadequate evidence of safety or efficacy, they also hid data about drugs' side effects.
- 2009: Pfizer pays $2.3 billion for marketing fraud related to Bextra, Lyrica and other drugs. Charges included marketing drugs to doctors for uses for which they had not been approved and giving kickbacks to doctors and other health care professionals for prescribing their drugs. This was Pfizer's fourth settlement numbering in the multimillions in less than a decade.
- 2012: GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) paid $3 billion for illegal marketing of Paxil and Welbutrin and downplaying safety risks of Avandia, among other charges.
Many Top-Selling Drugs Treat Conditions That Are Better Treated with Lifestyle Changes
As you can see, putting your health, your very life, in the hands of these drug companies is a frightening prospect because the leading pharmaceutical companies are also among the largest corporate criminals in the world, often behaving as if they are little more than white-collar drug dealers. As these companies have shown time and again, they consistently put profits above human health… and this includes your health.
Adding salt to the wound, most of the top-selling drugs treat conditions that are better treated with lifestyle changes, healthy food and other forms of natural healing! You don't want to be the drug industry’s next victim. Fortunately, my site is chock full of free comprehensive recommendations that can serve as an excellent starting point to break free from this fatally flawed paradigm. The tools I provide will help you to reduce your reliance on the broken health care system, including its overuse of often-dangerous drugs, and provide you with the tools and resources to take control of your health.