Neurontin Marketing Violated Federal Law, Jury Says

A federal jury has ordered Pfizer Inc. to pay $142.1 million in damages over its marketing of the epilepsy drug, <"">Neurontin. The Boston jury found Pfizer violated a federal antiracketeering law by promoting Neurontin for unapproved uses.

Neurontin was approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993 for epilepsy. Plaintiffs Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals had accused Pfizer of promoting Neurontin for uses not cleared by the FDA, including treatment for migraines and bipolar disorder. While doctors are allowed to prescribed an approved drug in anyway they see fit, pharmaceutical companies are barred by law from promoting off-label use.

Kaiser claimed that because of Pfizer’s Neurontin marketing, it was forced to pay $90 million more than it should have for Neurontin. Kaiser is the first insurer to try a Neurontin case against the Pfizer.

In a verdict rendered yesterday, the jury found that Pfizer’s marketing of Neurontin violated both the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and California’s Unfair Competition Law. The jury awarded Kaiser $47.6 for the RICO violations, which according to that law, are automatically tripled. The outcome of the California charges will be decided by a judge.

In a statement issued yesterday, Kaiser said it was pleased “that justice has been achieved for our members and the physicians, pharmacists and staff who care for them,” and called the jury decision “a victory for evidence-based medicine.”

This is not the first time Pfizer has faced penalties for the way it marketed Neurontin. In 2004, Pfizer pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay $430 million to settle government investigations of Pfizer’s promotion of the drug for off-label uses.

The judge who presided over the Kaiser lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Patti Saris, is overseeing federal lawsuits from throughout the U.S. against Pfizer involving injury claims and allegations of fraudulent sales and marketing of Neurontin. Last year, Judge Saris ruled that fraud findings against Pfizer in the Kaiser case could be binding against it in future trials.

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