The New York Times is reporting that drug maker Eli Lilly is in settlement talks with the federal government regarding the company’s marketing of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa. The talks could result in Lilly’s paying more than $1 billion to federal and state governments — the largest such settlement in history. Here are excerpts from the Times article:
Zyprexa has serious side effects and is approved only to treat people with schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. But documents from Lilly show that between 2000 and 2003, Lilly encouraged doctors to prescribe Zyprexa to people with age-related dementia, as well as people with mild bipolar disorder who had previously been diagnosed only as depressed.
Although doctors can prescribe drugs for any use once they are on the market, it is illegal for drug makers to promote their medicines any uses not formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Lilly may also plead guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge as part of the agreement, the people involved with the investigation said. But the company would be allowed to keep selling Zyprexa to Medicare and Medicaid, the government programs that are the biggest customers for the drug. Zyprexa is Lilly’s most profitable product and among the world’s best-selling medicines, with 2007 sales of $4.8 billion, about half in the United States.
“We have been and are continuing to cooperate in state and federal investigations related to Zyprexa, including providing a broad range of documents and information,” Lilly said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “As part of that cooperation we regularly have discussions with the government. However, we have no intention of sharing those discussions with the news media and it would be speculative and irresponsible for anyone to do so.”
The fine would be in addition to $1.2 billion that Lilly has already paid to settle 30,000 lawsuits from people who claim that Zyprexa caused them to suffer diabetes or other diseases. Zyprexa can cause severe weight gain in many patients and has been linked to diabetes by the American Diabetes Association.
While expensive for Lilly, the settlement would end a four-year federal investigation and remove a cloud over Zyprexa. While Zyprexa prescriptions are falling, its overall dollar volume of sales is rising because Lilly has raised Zyprexa’s price about 40 percent since 2003.
In late 2000, Lilly began a marketing campaign called Viva Zyprexa and told its sales representatives to suggest that doctors prescribe Zyprexa to older patients with symptoms of dementia.