GlaxoSmithKline To Pay $3 Billion To Settle Charges

British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to pay $3 billion to settle charges that it illegally marketed some of its most popular drugs. U.S. officials say among other things, the company promoted an antidepressant to children that was approved only for adults.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We turn now to what's being called the largest settlement in the history of the health care industry. British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to pay $3 billion to settle charges that it illegally marketed some of its most popular drugs. U.S. officials say among other things, the company promoted an antidepressant to children that was approved only for adults.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: U.S. officials at GlaxoSmithKline prepared an article for a medical journal that falsely said Paxil was approved for use by those under 18. The company also is accused of promoting another antidepressant, Wellbutrin, by saying it could treat attention deficit disorder, obesity and substance abuse. Regulators have approved Wellbutrin only for treating depression.

To encourage these off-label uses, the company allegedly gave doctors spa visits, concert tickets and trips to Europe and Hawaii.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General James Cole said the settlement announced yesterday was unprecedented in size and scope.

JAMES COLE: Let me be clear, we will not tolerate health care fraud, and in every instance where we uncover it, we will use all of our available tools to hold those responsible to account.

ZARROLI: In addition to the penalties it will pay, the company agreed to allow the federal government to monitor the way it trains its sales force.

Chief executive Andrew Witty released a statement expressing regret for what happened and saying the company had learned from its mistakes. While the illegal actions originated in a different era, he said, they cannot and will not be ignored.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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