Earlier this month news broke of a head-spinningly large fraud settlement involving the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. According to ABC News the company “agreed to an unprecedented $3 billion settlement with the US government over allegations that the company advertised drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.”
Over the years we have all become a bit numb to horror stories about the health care industry. One of the few things both sides in the debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act appear to agree on is that the US healthcare system is in need of significant reform (exactly what sort of reform is a subject of far more debate).
Cases like this are the sort of thing that not only give an entire industry a bad name, but make reasonable people wonder how much deeper, and broader, corporate fraud is in the health care and pharmaceutical industry. To what extent are other companies putting their own profits ahead of patient and consumer safety?
The specific charges against GlaxoSmithKline are shocking. Among other things, the company promoted as an anti-depression treatment a drug that had never even been tested for such a purpose. Another drug was marketed to doctors as a treatment for children, even though it was not approved for that use. The prospect of wrongful deaths here in Oregon and elsewhere, and especially of injuries to children clearly looms large in any analysis of this corporate activity endangering Oregon consumer safety. Oregon patient safety ought to be everyone’s business. One wishes this did not require legal enforcement to be so.
From an Oregon medical malpractice and wrongful death attorney’s perspective, a case like this is a sobering reminder of the important role regulatory authorities and our courts play in ensuring that the public’s health and safety are protected. Cases like this are proof that many companies cannot be relied on to do the right thing. Corporations exist to promote the interests of their shareholders. Regulators and courts exist to protect the public, and to level the playing field between ordinary Oregonians and powerful corporate interests.