Drug company corporate websites tell us of their integrity and utmost commitment to people’s health and well-being. The American Psychiatric Association’s website begins with “Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives” and asserts the “highest ethical standards of professional conduct.” Yet a mountain of evidence points to an entirely different picture. Most recently, thirty-eight state attorneys won a $68.5 million settlement with pharmaceutical titan AstraZeneca for unlawful marketing of antipsychotic Seroquel for unapproved use. These states also charged this company with failing to disclose the drug’s harmful side effects and concealing negative information about its safety and efficacy. “The company’s illegal practices put our most vulnerable populations at risk, including children and older patients with dementia and other debilitating diseases,” states Illinois Attorney General. U.S. sales of Seroquel brought in $5.3 billion for AstraZeneca last year.
There’s a reason psychiatrists prescribe drugs rather than talking therapy: the latter makes no money for pharmaceutical firms. The New York Times recently led with a front-page splash about psychiatry’s propensity to prescribe pills, “Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy”. That news is already widely known in the mental health field, but it has vast ramifications for Americans trying to maintain their sanity in our market-driven and medical system for delivering mental healthcare. What does the turn to drug therapy mean for the mass of Americans?
The Justice Department has collected a whopping $3 billion in settlements this year with help from whistleblowers and a powerful law known as the False Claims Act, Assistant Attorney General Tony West announced this morning. And guess where $2.5 billion of that $3 billion came from? Big Pharma. This year’s biggest hauls under the False Claims Act include $669 million of the record-shattering $2.3 billion total the government took from Pfizer over its improper promotion of the painkiller Bextra, $302 million from Astra Zeneca over the anti-psychotic drug Seroquel, and $192 million from Novartis.
U.S. Senator Charles Grassley asked 16 drugmakers, including Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Plc and Eli Lilly & Co., to reveal how they treat whistleblowers who file complaints under the False Claims Act. Grassley, an Iowa Republican, sent letters June 28 that posed eight questions such as how companies notify employees of the law, how they treat whistleblowers and what changes they have made in response to a 2009 law extending anti-retaliation protections.