Abbott Laboratories has agreed to a massive $1.6 billion settlement after illegally marketing the drug Depakote to nursing home administrators and other long-term care providers.The $1.6 billion is split up into three big payments:
- $800 million will resolve civil allegations
- $700 million will resolve criminal penalties
- $100 million will make consumer protection matters disappear
If you’re waiting to hear about prison sentences, keep waiting. The only people who will pay a personal penalty are the nursing home residents who suffered the side effects and other consequences associated with being prescribed a drug for symptoms that it couldn’t fix. This settlement encapsulates virtually everything that’s wrong with the health care system. Abbott developed a drug called Depakote. It’s an anti-seizure and mood-stabilizing drug. The Federal Drug Administration approved this prescription drug to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraines. The problem for Abbott is that the elderly population doesn’t suffer from epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraines any more than the general population. And because Medicare and Medicaid pays for much of the medication seniors need, pharmaceutical companies want all of their drugs to be marketed to seniors. So Abbott started a clandestine campaign to convince seniors that they needed to be taking more Depakote. To do that, they needed people to push the drug, and they found them in nursing homes, hospitals, and doctor’s offices all across the country. Abbott representatives began pushing the story to these medical professionals that Depakote was effective in treating dementia, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other conditions common to senior citizens.People will take almost any pill their doctor tells them they need. There’s a great trust there. Abbott exploited that by providing illegal kickbacks to doctors to talk about how effective the drug was in treating conditions that it was not FDA approved for. So, now that Abbott Laboratories has been brought to justice, are the seniors and other disabled people who live in our nursing homes and long term care facilities safe? Hardly. The list of pharmaceutical companies that have been encouraging nursing home administrators, doctors, and other long-term care employees to push families into taking potentially dangerous prescription drugs for purposes that they have not been approved for is enough to make a person weep. In 2009, Phizer paid $2.3 billion for pushing a dangerous prescription drug called Bextra. Eli Lilly paid $1.4 billion for Zyprexa. GlaxoSmithKline paid $3 billion for Avandia. The practice of treating ailments with FDA approved prescription drugs that haven’t been specifically approved for those ailments is called “off label” usage. It’s not new. Over the decades, the practice has saved many lives. Using aspirin for heart attack victims, for example, was originally an off label treatment. The difference is that the treatments developed organically, and weren’t the creation of an industry trying to push a drug on a more lucrative population.