Johnson & Johnson Settles Marketing Charges

Johnson & Johnson became the latest drugmaker to reach a costly agreement with the federal government over charges of improper marketing. The widely anticipated settlement, unveiled Monday, covers Natrecor, a drug for congestive heart failure, and antipsychotics Risperdal and Invega.

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NPR's business news starts with a big Pharma fine.

The drug maker Johnson & Johnson says it will pay $2.2 billion to settle long-running civil and criminal investigations.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, the cases involved mismarketing of drugs and an admission of paying kickbacks to pharmacists to promote drugs for unapproved uses.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Attorney General Eric Holder called the settlement, yesterday, an important defense of taxpayers, insurers, and vulnerable patients.

ATTORNEY GENERA ERIC HOLDER: The payment of kickbacks undermines the independent medical judgment of health care providers. It creates financial incentives to increase the use of certain drugs, potentially putting the health of some patients at risk.

NOGUCHI: Among other things, the deal settles charges Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries encouraged doctors and nursing homes to prescribe the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal to calm emotional disturbance in children and elderly people with dementia.

Paul Rubin is a professor at Emory University who has worked with pharmaceutical companies. He says the laws regarding so-called off-label use of drugs are vague. Doctors, for example, prescribe drugs for various unapproved uses all the time.

PAUL RUBIN: It's quite legitimate for a drug to be prescribed for an unapproved use, it happens all the time.

NOGUCHI: And yet, Rubin says, the law says companies cannot market the drugs for unapproved use.

Attorney General Holder did not cite specific examples of victims. But, he says...

HOLDER: These are not victimless crimes. Americans trust that the medications prescribed for their parents and for their grandparents, for their children and for themselves are selected because they are in the patient's best interest.

NOGUCHI: Johnson & Johnson denies the allegations in the civil cases. It will be subject to government review of its practices for five years.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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