Pfizer, the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, was recently slapped with a federal lawsuit over its marketing of popular cholesterol drug, Lipitor (atorvastatin). The whistleblower in this suit, Health Support Awareness Inc., argues that Pfizer deceptively misbranded Lipitor to keep it in high demand and at inflated prices. Lipitor attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are anxious to see what is revealed during the course of this case.
A whistleblower, or qui tam lawsuit, can be filed by anyone who has information that a company is in anyway defrauding the federal government. If the case results in a settlement or verdict, that whistleblower is then entitled to a percentage of the money, typically between 15 and 30%.
In the Pfizer Lipitor case, Health Support accused the healthcare giant of, among other things, defrauding Medicare and Medicaid out of billions of dollars. Indeed, the rate of Lipitor’s prescriptions is jarring: between 2007 and 2010, over 43% of Medicare patients were prescribed to a statin, which is a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs and for which Lipitor is a front-runner. Just in 2010, this cost the federal agency $6.7 billion.
Half of men aged 65 to 74 are prescribed a statin drug to control cholesterol levels, and the drugs are generally helping curb the rates of fatal heart disease. However, in its haste to develop and market statins to a nation plagued by heart disease, Big Pharma failed to adequately test the drugs for long-term health effects.
Pfizer is specifically accused of fraudulently keeping Lipitor prices high and engaging in illegal promotions to keep demand up. The company’s aggressive, misleading marketing campaign worked, and Pfizer enjoyed major profits from the drug at the expense of the American healthcare system.
Lipitor was developed by Warner-Lambert, which in 1997 hired Pfizer to market the drug. In its first year, the statin reaped over $1 billion in sales. Pfizer accomplished this by pouring millions into TV ads and hiring high-profile spokespeople, such as Dr. Robert Jarvik. Another major and incredibly deceptive tactic Pfizer employed to boost sales was to lower the doctor-recommended cholesterol levels for prescribing. As a result, exactly as they had hoped, this led to even more demand for the statin drug.
Pfizer also engaged in several extremely underhanded activities during the time Lipitor’s patent was supposed to end, including paying a generic company to delay its release of the generic Lipitor and then pitting another generic maker against it so the two would release the drug at the same time. In turn, the other generic company agreed to give Pfizer 70% of its generic Lipitor profits.
All the while, Pfizer steadily increased the price of Lipitor and continued
to bombard the public with TV ads. The FDA sent numerous warning letters
to the company regarding these ads, requesting that many be discontinued
due to blatant overstatement of Lipitor’s benefits.
If you were not yet convinced of Pfizer’s egregious, malicious, profit-hungry promotional tactics, it is worth noting that the company also pushed physicians to prescribe the highest dose available regardless of medical need. This was done to both prevent patients from “pill splitting,” and because the highest doses of Lipitor were most expensive. This fraudulent practice alone cost Medicare and Medicaid about $1.4 billion per year.
Despite this onslaught of evidence, the federal government decided not to take part in the lawsuit, leaving Health Support Awareness to fight Big Pharma alone. Our Lipitor attorneys will continue to report on this case as it unfolds in federal court. Anyone seriously injured by Lipitor, Crestor, or any other statin, should contact our firm for a free case review. Injuries from prescription drugs are often the result of fraudulent marketing and development like Pfizer’s, and companies can be held liable and made to pay for medical bills and other damages.