Pfizer has set a new record.

Dr Jonathan Wright, M.D. newsletter

Dear Reader,

Looks like Pfizer has set a new record.

But I imagine holding the title for "Most Money Paid Out For The Criminal Charge of Improper Marketing of Prescription Drugs" isn't something they'll be celebrating any time soon. (Not exactly a title that rolls off the tongue, either).

Eli Lilly and Co. set the previous record when they agreed to pay $1.42 billion earlier this year for off-label sales of Zyprexa. But Pfizer blew past that figure last week, agreeing to pay a record $2.3 billion, pleading guilty to a U.S. criminal charge concerning improper marketing of 13 medicines.

You see, they'd been repeatedly pitching drugs to doctors and patients for unapproved conditions. Most notably, their pain medication Bextra.

Bextra, an NSAID, had been approved for treating arthritis. But that wasn't enough for Pfizer. Their sales reps pushed it for all kinds of stuff—acute pain, surgical pain, and other unapproved uses. Until, thankfully, it was pulled from the market for increased risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as an increased risk of serious skin conditions.

Of course, the bigwigs at Pfizer say they disciplined or terminated employees for "failing to follow appropriate promotional practices."

This isn't the first time Pfizer's felt the heat of criminal charges. In 2004, they agreed to pay $430 million and pleaded guilty to charges of illegally marketing Neurontin (a drug intended for epilepsy) for migraine headaches and pain.

After that settlement, Pfizer's marketing practices went under government supervision. How's that been working out? Well, some of the incidents they're answering for now occurred as recently as 2007. So...not so well.

Of course, I always like to see these criminals get their just desserts. And a $2.3 billion settlement can make a strong statement.

But whether this last payout will actually stop the Big Pharma giant from continuing this shady practice...especially when they pulled in over $48 billion in revenue last year...well, time will tell, but I'm certainly not holding my breath.

Yours in good health,

Christine O'Brien