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Letters New image for the drug industry

Drug industry is now biggest defrauder of US government

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 10 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:d8219
  1. Alain Braillon, senior consultant in public health1
  1. 180000 Amiens, France
  1. braillon.alain{at}

Stephen Whitehead, the new head of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, thinks that the bad press given to the drug industry is largely undeserved.1 A paragraph heading calls for collaboration. Facts are clear and this call is frightening because in the US laws exist and are implemented.

Public Citizen has made the diagnosis: “While the defense industry used to be the biggest defrauder of the federal government under the False Claims Act, a law enacted in 1863 to prevent military contractor fraud, the pharmaceutical industry has greatly overtaken the defense industry.” Settlements for criminal and civil monetary penalties reached a total of $20bn (£12.9bn; €15.4bn) during 1991-2010, with three quarters of the settlements and penalties occurring between 2006 and 2010.2

Merck agreed with the US Department of Justice on 22 November 2011 to pay $950m to resolve criminal and civil charges over the promotion and marketing of rofecoxib (Vioxx).3 A few weeks before, GlaxoSmithKline agreed on $3bn to settle civil and criminal investigations into its sales practices for numerous drugs—its fourth case since April 2008. This payment surpassed the previous record of $2.3bn by Pfizer in 2009.4

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA; US Bribery Act) is enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Justice Department. Recently they have been looking into drug companies’ foreign sales practices. Johnson & Johnson was the first company to pay to resolve FCPA allegations in April 2011 ($70m). Pfizer has just reached agreement in principle to resolve “improper payment” matters outside the US.5 Eli Lilly is close to a settlement. AstraZeneca is working to reach an agreement. Many others are being questioned.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:d8219


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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