December 16, 2010
U.S. spending on prescription drugs has increased from $40 billion in 1990 to $234 billion in 2008. In this era of rapidly rising drug costs, the illegal pharmaceutical company activities that have contributed to such inflated spending have garnered a significant amount of media attention. Recent billion-dollar settlements with two of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Eli Lilly and Pfizer, provide evidence of the enormous scale of this wrongdoing. However, the total size, varied nature, and potential impact of these illegal and potentially dangerous activities have not been previously analyzed. This study examined trends from 1991 to the present in federal and state criminal and civil actions against pharmaceutical companies in order to address these questions.
The purpose of this study was to compile a comprehensive database of all major criminal and civil settlements between federal and state governments and pharmaceutical companies. Press releases from both federal and state governments, in addition to existing online databases, were used to identify all settlements of at least $1 million during the past 20 years.
Over the past two decades, especially during the past 10 years, there has been a marked increase in both the number of government settlements with pharmaceutical companies and the size of the accompanying financial penalties. The reasons for these increases are likely related to a combination of increased violations by companies and increased enforcement on the part of federal and state governments.
The danger to public safety and the loss of state and federal dollars that comes with these violations require a more robust response than the government’s current practices. Given the relatively small size of current financial penalties when compared to the perpetrating companies’ profits, both increased financial penalties and appropriate criminal prosecution of company leadership may provide a more effective deterrent to unlawful behavior by the pharmaceutical industry.
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