Remember when Pfizer paid out $2.3 billion to settle the largest healthcare fraud case in history?

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As millions of eligible Americans rush out to get vaccinated with Pfizer’s new Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, it is important to remind everyone that back in 2009, Pfizer was forced to pay a whopping $2.3 billion settlement in what quickly became the largest healthcare fraud case in history.

In order to resolve criminal and civil liability charges stemming from its illegal promotion of various pharmaceutical drugs, Pfizer Inc. subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company Inc. agreed to fork over this large sum of cash, which despite its lofty amount was still less than the untold billions the company raked in from committing the now-settled crimes.

As part of the case, Pfizer pleaded guilty to misbranding an anti-inflammatory drug known as Bextra for the intended purpose of defrauding and misleading customers. Pfizer illegally marketed Bextra for uses and at dosages that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns.

Pfizer consequently paid a criminal fine of $1.195 billion, the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter. Pfizer was also forced to forfeit another $105 million, resulting in a total criminal resolution of $1.3 billion. Bextra was later pulled from the market in 2005.

In addition to this, Pfizer also agreed to pay another $1 billion to resolve allegations that it illegally promoted three other drugs besides Bextra:

• Geodon, an anti-psychotic pharmaceutical
• Zyvox, an antibiotic pharmaceutical, and
• Lyrica, an anti-epileptic pharmaceutical

Pfizer not only illegally marketed these drugs, but it also submitted false claims to government health care programs that cited uses for them that were never medically accepted under the law, and thus did not qualify for reimbursement.

This same civil settlement also resolved allegations that Pfizer paid kickbacks to various health care providers to spur them to prescribe these and other drugs illicitly. All in all, the case represents the largest civil fraud settlement against a pharmaceutical company in history.