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Drug Firm Pfizer Suspected of Illegal Marketing

Oct 20, 2002 | AP

The Washington state Attorney General's Office is leading a national investigation into whether a drug company illegally marketed an epilepsy medication called Neurontin.

Assistant Attorney General David Waterbury, based in Tacoma, is leading the investigation on behalf of 47 states and the District of Columbia, he said in an affidavit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Boston.

He's investigating whether Pfizer marketed Neurontin for "off-label" uses meaning for uses that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved.

It's legal for doctors to prescribe drugs for off-label purposes for example, prescribing an anti-seizure drug to treat a sleep disorder. But it's illegal for drug companies to market them that way.

Washington Medicaid spending on Neurontin increased more than tenfold from 1996 to 2000, the height of the marketing campaign.

The Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts' medical director for Medicaid is reviewing the growing number of Neurontin prescriptions for mood disorders, bipolar illness and sleep problems.

Waterbury's investigation could lead to criminal, civil or administrative charges, he said Friday. He said the allegations are "very significant."

Calls to three Pfizer spokespeople were not returned Friday.

In 1996, a whistle-blower doctor started a civil lawsuit against Parke-Davis and Pfizer in U.S. District Court in Boston. That lawsuit is ongoing, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston is conducting a criminal investigation.

Hundreds of pages of Parke-Davis internal records were released by the court last May, The Globe reported, revealing a marketing strategy for off-label use of Neurontin that included ghostwriting journal articles for doctors and rewarding potential prescribers with beach trips.

Waterbury filed his affidavit in response to the U.S. District Court's request for information about the Medicaid investigation.

The state is not a party to the suit.

Neurontin was created and marketed by Parke-Davis, which merged with Pfizer two years ago. Waterbury also is investigating how much the drug's marketing influenced Medicaid spending on Neurontin.

The Globe reported that Medicaid spending on the epilepsy drug in Massachusetts increased from $1 million in 1996 to $14 million in 2000.

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