Drug company GlaxoSmithKline is out a hefty $3 billion after pleading guilty to promoting drugs for uses the FDA hasn't approved, the Justice Department said Monday. On the docket of crimes for which they're paying so dearly: The company advertised depression-treating Paxil to children even though it had only been approved for adults, and it promoted Wellbutrin, approved for depression, to treat sexual dysfunction, weight-control, addiction, and ADD. It also didn't report safety data on the diabetes drug Avandia, which carries warnings about increased risk of heart disease.
Off-label marketing, as it's known, seems (lucky for the Justice Department) like a crime that by definition cannot be committed in secret: One breaks the law by "marketing" products, thus creating a massive paper trail. So Glaxo probably should have been more cautious. The $3 billion plea deal makes this the third largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history, Justice said Monday, and to put that in context, the company reported an after-tax earning of $8.32 billion in 2011. So, that $3 billion seems like it'll be a pretty big dent in the 2012 figure.