Louisiana Sues Pfizer Over
Fraudulent Zoloft Marketing

Kermit Cole
8
119

The Attorney General of Louisiana has filed suit against Pfizer, Inc. for concealing “serious issues” regarding Zoloft’s efficacy. Citing a “deliberate, systematic practice” of suppressing unfavorable trial results, publishing ghostwritten articles, and paying key opinion leaders, the lawsuit asserts that Louisiana’s medicaid program reimbursed of prescriptions for the drug that were made under false pretenses.

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From the article:

“Pfizer engaged and continues to engage in a deliberate, systematic practice of suppressing unfavorable results for its drug and misleading the state, healthcare providers, consumers and policy makers about the actual efficacy of its drug,” according to the lawsuit. “The defendant caused thousands of false and deceptive claims tobe made to the state by manipulating published efficacy data, paying key opinion leaders to bolster Zoloft’s efficacy and deceptively concealing Zoloft’s inefficacy”

 

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected]

8 COMMENTS

  1. Bet no one goes to jail as usual. These people don’t have to worry about playing by the same rules we do, they are special.

    So as usual when the lawsuits roll in from the families of sick or dead patients, pharma simply uses a small portion of their windfall profits to settle out of court, admitting no guilt.

    How much fraud tax will they pay this time ? You know, that thing they call a ‘fine’.

  2. I think this is an important development, although I certainly agree that these people shuld go to jail. I don’t know of any case where prosecutors cut right to the chase and talked about fraud of this kind. Of course, what Pfizer did is exactly what all the drug companies do, organized lying.

    With this and Jim Gottstein’s current lawsuit around Medicaid fraud, some headway might be being made against all these outrageous practices.

  3. As a former prosecutor, I can attest to the difficulty of sending corporate officers to jail. The standard of proof in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and it’s hard to penetrate the corporate veil to reach that level of proof for individuals. That’s a major reason corporations were invented – to insulate principals from the fallout of their actions. Unless there’s an iron clad “smoking gun,” it’s an uphill battle. Of course, there’s also the matter of the power these corporations wield, and the indirect reprisals they can take against anyone who goes after the big shots.

    But there is some real value in prosecutions like La.’s. If they win, it becomes a matter of record that a court actually found Pfizer to have committed fraud. Then when we criticize PhARMA and psychiatry, and they respond with ad hominem arguments about how we’re just “anti-psychiatry” or “Scientologists,” we can simply say, this is not my opinion – it’s the opinion of the La. Supreme Court, or the U. S. District Court.

    That’s why PhARMA settles so many suits. If they reach an agreement, and the case doesn’t go to trial, they don’t have to admit any wrongdoing – they just reached a settlement. Good chance that’s what will happen here, unfortunately.

    Even though these suits are kind of a “wrongdoing tax,” simply a cost of doing business, PhARMA and psychiatry are very, very interested in money. It still hurts. I would bet these lawsuits are one reason PhARMA’s psychiatric research activity has dramatically declined. They really don’t like to lose a dime.

    • Peter, your comment raises an issue that I have often thought about. If a lawsuit is commenced over an issue like psychiatric malpractice and a win would have significant implications, is it possible to make a deal with your client ahead of time that he/she will refuse to settle out of court no matter what sum is offered, on the basis that establishing the precedent law would be more valuable?

      Would such an arrangement contravene any kind of practice standard? And what about a prior agreement that settlement would only be agreed to on the condition that the terms were not private, i.e. that the plaintiff would be free to report them to the media (even if a private settlement was for more money). Would this be ethical?

  4. I didn’t think much about this (ie, yet another SSRI lawsuit) until I read the complaint which can be found here http://freepdfhosting.com/9d34013f16.pdf .

    Boy! The lawsuit might as well called “antipsychiatry activists vs Pfizer” :D. It contains several themes that should be familiar to everybody around here,

    – That Pfizer promoted the “serotonin deficit theory of depression” even though there is no evidence for it.

    – That the FDA approves this type of drugs with “only two studies”.

    – That trials showed that Zoloft was not more effective than placebo.

    – That Zoloft was promoted via ghostwriting.

    If this goes to trial, and damages are upheld based on the merits, it would be an incredible precedent for future actions.

  5. Francesca, I’m a lawyer, and the answer to both questions is, yes, it would be ethical, but your client would have to agree to it. And it would not be ethical to pressure your client to agree.

    But the non-disclosure agreements, as you know, are a routine part of these settlements, and a client wants the money, and probably even more, the closure of having everything resolved. (Although money doesn’t bring your child back to life or heal the damage to your own body.)

    So I guess the real answer is that the client would have to want to do this in the first place. Legal ethics are not implicated if the client comes to you and asks to do this. But I think the lawyer would have an obligation to the prospective client to point out that the drug company would be very reluctant to settle out of court under these circumstances and that taking a case to trial is much more of a risk than accepting a settlement. Trials are always a gamble, no matter how good your case is. Plus a drug company, if forced to go to trial, has lots of money and high-powered lawyers to throw into the fight. They know how much they have to lose.

  6. My psychology (cough) professor says that the proof that depression is a chemical imbalance is that when normal people take an antidepressant they don’t become euphoric.

    I guess elementary logic isn’t required to attain a PhD. The placebo effect is based on hope. A depressed person is desperate to feel better. A normal person isn’t desperate to become euphoric.

    Oh, yeah, and our textbook refers to SSRI disasters as “alarming anecdotes,” akin to people claiming brain cancer from cell phones. I wrote to my prof pointing out (among other issues) that these “alarming anecdotes” happen frequently enough that the FDA forced the manufacturers to post black box warnings to that effect on their products. Never heard back from the prof. Anybody surprised?