Teamsters v. Pfizer - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Teamsters v. Pfizer
A New Jersey Teamsters local says Pfizer tricked them into paying for off-label Lipitor prescriptions. Do you have any questions about that? We do.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Why is this a RICO lawsuit?

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which was passed in 1970 to prosecute conspiracies by organized crime, is frequently used in civil litigation because it offers big payouts—treble damages—to parties harmed by business practices that can be construed as mail or wire (telephone) fraud.

"Pfizer violated the statute," says Jay Eisenhofer, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "RICO is a means to compensate people when there's a violation of civil law."

But as Geoffrey Jarvis, another partner at Grant & Eisenhofer, PA, explains, RICO is a common way to build a nationwide class for a class-action suit. "Fraud is a common-law claim in the United States," he explains. "There is no national fraud law. Every state has its own." Jarvis assures us that he—and the Teamsters—do not see Pfizer as a bunch of racketeers: "We're not calling them the Mafia, no." The attorneys are also filing in state courts, in case the national class is not certified.

Thank You for Prescribing

What does Pfizer think about this lawsuit? Good question. We spoke to company spokesman Bryant Haskins about the suit the day it was filed, and just before press time, we asked him some follow-up questions about Pfizer's alleged off-label marketing. Here are some excerpts from those conversations.

Pharm Exec: The plaintiffs say in a nutshell that Pfizer is promoting the use of Lipitor for cholesterol levels that are below those specified on the label, which is taken from the ATP III guidelines.

Haskins: Well I think the ATP III are guidelines. And we always recommend that patients consult with their doctors and determine what is the best approach for them to take regarding any of our drugs, and particularly for Lipitor for cholesterol reduction. That's a decision to be made between them and their doctors. Are they claiming that the doctor has no position as far as prescribing medicine to patients?

No. Quite the opposite, I think. They are saying that you are trying to influence doctors to prescribe at cholesterol levels lower than the label recommends.

Our position has always been that patients should consult with their doctors to determine the appropriate treatment for them as individuals.

But they would say, fine, instead of influencing patients you decided to influence doctors.

They're not giving much credit to the doctors, are they?

No, they're not. But that's what they're saying: Pfizer recognizes that the doctor-patient relationship is a very powerful one, and that doctors influence their patients. So Pfizer sets out this big elaborate—the attorneys call it a "scheme"—to influence doctors. And you do spend a lot of money influencing doctors. They're your customers, right?

Yes. But that doesn't mean we're influencing them unduly. And I can't get into addressing specific allegations of this lawsuit. Other than to say that we would strongly disagree with many, if not most or all, of the points that they make in the lawsuit. But beyond that, we're not going to get into talking point by point. We never do that with litigation that's in progress.

[And later via email:]

We're finishing a piece about the Teamster's allegations that Pfizer marketed Lipitor off-label. We'd like to give you a chance to comment [further].

It is important to point out that this lawsuit isn't about personal injury to patients and, in fact, none is alleged by plaintiffs. Nor is there any evidence that patients failed to benefit from taking Lipitor.

What this case is really about is insurers who are trying to substitute their judgment for the judgment of prescribing physicians who are in the best position to make decisions about the type of medical treatment their patients receive.

Thank you. I can use the comments. And I will. But obviously, your comments do not take on the central allegation of the class-action lawsuit—that Pfizer's marketing intended to focus physicians on the benefits of writing Lipitor for patients who probably don't need it as a first-line therapy. I think I would be within my rights to say that you offered these remarks instead of commenting directly on the allegations in the complaint.

[via Blackberry] Thanks.


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