GlaxoSmithKline guilty of fraud and other illegal practices, but no-one’s going to jail

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GlaxoSmithKline is the world’s fourth largest drug company, and in 2011 made $9 billion in profit. But this week saw this drug giant was found guilty of a range of misdemeanours by the US Department of Justice. Here’s some of them:

  1. Illegal promotion of the anti-depressant paroxetine (Paxil, Seroxat) in individuals under the age of 18, even though the drug was not licensed in individuals of this age.
  2. The creation of “misleading” articles in medical journals claiming that paroxetine was effective in the under-18s, even though the cited study failed to find benefit.
  3. The hiding of relevant trials that had negative findings.
  4. The illegal promotion of the drug bupropion for ‘off label’ uses (uses for which it is usually unproven and unlicensed) such as weight loss, sexual dysfunction, addiction and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  5. The creation of “sham advisory boards” (supposedly expert boards that advice on management of medical condition that are populated my hand-picked ‘experts’ who are known to be sympathetic to a drug and may be being paid to sit on these boards).
  6. Provision of travel inducements (bribes) to promote unauthorised use of the drug.
  7. Failure to report data regarding the safety of its diabetes drug rosiglitazone to the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in the US.
  8. The promotion of off-label use of the asthma drug fluticasone.
  9. The promotion of off-label use of the anti-convulsant drug lamotrigine.
  10. The promotion of off-label use of the anti-nausea drug ondansetron.
  11. The false reporting of drug prices that meant GSK under-payed rebates under what is known as the Medicaid Drug Rebate Programme.

GSK has been fined $3 billion, and has signed a ‘corporate integrity agreement’ and will be monitored by the US Department of Justice for the next five years. Apparently, “company executives may be held personally accountable and forced to give back bonuses and long term incentives if they or their subordinates engage in significant misconduct.

Why are all the penalties here merely financial? Executives and their underlings have engaged in proven illegal practices, some of which have undoubtedly harmed individuals who have put trust and faith in their doctors and GSK products, and all that happens is that the company gets to pay for a ‘get out of jail free’ card. GSK can now move on with just a financial slap on the wrist. It seems to me that some GSK executives were not properly punished for being the criminals they are.

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