Pfizer Settles Neurontin Lawsuit

Earlier this year we wrote that a federal jury ordered Pfizer Inc. to pay $142.1 million in damages over its marketing of epilepsy drug, <"">Neurontin. A Boston jury found Pfizer violated a federal anti-racketeering law by promoting Neurontin for unapproved uses. Now, says Business Week, Pfizer has agreed to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit in which it is alleged that Neurontin caused a man to commit suicide. Business Week said Richard Smith, a 79-year-old retired Church of Christ minister, committed suicide after taking Neurontin for two months.

Pfizer advised the judge it resolved claims made by Smith’s family, making this the second settlement in which Pfizer unit officials were aware Neurontin presented a risk of suicide that was not disclosed to physicians and patients, noted Business Week. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Neurontin in 1993 for epilepsy. Smith’s doctor prescribed Neurontin off-label. In Smith’s case, the medication was taken for chronic pain and not for epilepsy, according to court filings.

In a prior suit, a former Warner-Lambert—a Pfizer subsidiary—medical liaison testified that he was trained to market Neurontin to physicians for off-label uses, said Business Week. Dr. David Franklin, who won a $25 million whistleblower suit, said he was provided with a “snake-oil list” of unapproved Neurontin uses to help increase drug sales. Franklin was scheduled to testify in Smith’s case, said Business Week.

Recently, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals accused Pfizer of promoting Neurontin for uses not cleared by the FDA, including treatment for migraines and bipolar disorder. While doctors are allowed to prescribe an approved drug in any way they see fit, pharmaceutical companies are legally barred 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. 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, awarding Kaiser $47.6 for the RICO violations, which according to that law, are automatically tripled.

This is not the first time Pfizer has faced penalties for the way in which it marketed Neurontin. In 2004, Pfizer pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay $430 million to settle government investigations of its promotion of the drug for off-label uses. In 2004, Warner-Lambert pleaded guilty to criminal charges filed by the Justice Department over allegations it illegally marketed Neurontin, said Business Week. According to Business Week, Pfizer still faces over 1,000 lawsuits accusing the drug giant of illegally promoting Neurontin for unapproved uses and helping to cause some users’ suicides.

Smith’s family’s attorneys said Smith complained that Neurontin “was making him feel not himself,” said Business Week, citing court filings. “Mr. Smith’s death was inexplicable to family members because Mr. Smith was a godly man and he knew suicide was wrong,” they added in the filing, quoted Business Week. Last May, Smith killed himself with a gunshot to the head, leaving a note that said: “Forgive me; I cannot go on like this, I cannot have my body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, cut on anymore…. I have talked to God all night and he understands.”

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