US attorneys say the stiff sentence is a message to other drug makers.
Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in a Philadelphia federal courtroom January 30th and got a massive penalty.
A judge sentenced the drug maker to pay a $615 million criminal fine. US attorneys say the Lilly Company urged doctors to prescribe the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa for many uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Attorney Stephen Sheller represents several whistleblowers in the case. He says the company’s off-label marketing put elderly patients at risk and it’s unclear how many were harmed.
Sheller: But we do know that thousands of people were prescribed this drug, otherwise the profits wouldn’t have to been coughed up by Lilly and this huge fine wouldn’t have been administered to them.
The Lilly Company admits to a single misdemeanor. Sheller says prosecutors didn’t pursue a stiffer charge because a felony conviction would have barred the drugmaker from participating in government programs like Medicaid and Medicare.
Sheller: They didn’t want to put the company out of business cause thousands and thousands of employees work for them. They do make drugs which are important and useful. The next time it happens I believe they will be put out of business.
Department of Justice attorney Jeffrey Steger called Eli Lilly a recidivist. He says the company has a previous conviction for off-label marketing and violating the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.