In this latest case of drug industry fraud, GSK will pay the government $750 million to settle criminal and civil complaints that the company knowingly sold bad drugs from a contaminated plant in Puerto Rico. Cheryl D. Eckard, Glaxo’s former quality control manager and the whistleblower in the case, maintains that she warned the company about problems with its drugs, including Paxil, Tagament, Coreg, and (yet again!) Avandia. The FDA recently made a decision to impose tough new regulations on Avandia in the U.S. market, while the European Medicines Agency decided to pull it from the European market altogether. Despite significant concerns about the drug, this decision took years. At the heart of the debate about Avandia was GAP client Dr. David Graham, who authored a report on the drug illustrating that 500 heart attacks and 300 cases of heart failure could be avoided every month if every person taking Avandia was switched to a comparable drug. Of course, the FDA initially tried to suppress Dr. Graham’s report. When Ms. Eckard tried to raise concerns over Avandia (and a host of other drugs), GlaxoSmithKline fired her.
The $750 million that GSK will pay is the nation’s fourth largest health care fraud settlement. In the last fiscal year, the government collected $3.1 billion from drug companies (Pfizer alone paid a $2.3 billion fine). Yet despite these substantial financial slaps intended to caution drug makers in the future, it seems that new fraud cases are surfacing every week.
This prevalence of lawsuits says that health care fraud is common, but prompts us to ask: is litigation an effective means of ensuring drug safety?
Lindsay Bigda is Communications Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.