Drug Companies Budget for Profits Despite Billion-Dollar Fines and Settlements

Dangerous drugs

Pfizer was aware of Zithromax liver dangers as early as 1998

Zithromax (azithromycin), also known as Z-Pak and Zmax, is a popular antibiotic  introduced by Pfizer in 1991. It is convenient to use because it has a short dosing regimen. Depending on what it is being used for, it is taken for one, three or five days. 

It soon became one of the best-selling antibiotics in the U.S. and the world. Total sales peaked at $2 billion in 2005 and only started to drop due to competition from generic availability of azithromycin. In 2011, U.S. sales of Zithromax totaled $464 million. Zithromax can be used by people who are allergic to penicillin. Despite its advantages, Zithromax can have serious, sometimes fatal, side effects.

Deadly Side Effects

Dangerous and deadly side effects of Zithromax can include:

  • Kidney damage
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver damage
  • Liver failure
  • Stevens Johnson Syndrome
  • Abnormal electrical activity in the heart
  • Sudden cardiac death

Zithromax Uses

Zithromax is used to treat bacterial infections including:

  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Tonsillitis
  • Ear infections
  • Skin infections
  • STDs

Pfizer was aware of liver dangers

Zithromax lawsuits have presented evidence that Pfizer was aware of Zithromax liver dangers as early as 1998, even though it did not update its warning label to reflect the risks until 2001 when the FDA mandated change to the label.

In 2009, Pfizer agreed to pay $2.3 billion in a record-breaking settlement. In the lawsuit, Pfizer faced criminal and civil allegations of illegally marketing Zithromax and 12 other drugs. It was accused of off-label marketing and paying kickbacks to doctors for pushing drugs including Zithromax. The settlement included a $1.2 billion criminal fine, $1 billion in civil penalties, and $100 million in criminal forfeiture.

The criminal fine was, at the time, the largest fine ever in a U.S. criminal case. It was also Pfizer’s fourth settlement of government charges in a decade, yet no one who made these criminal decisions faced jail time for their actions and the harm they caused innocent victims.

Will We Ever See Real Accountability?

In 2009, when Pfizer settled for $2.3 billion, a sales manager Mary Holloway was sentence to two years’ probation and a $75,000 fine after entering a guilty plea to distribution of a misbranded drug. No jail time and she was a sales manager – not a decision maker.

Even in the face of enormous fines, pharmaceutical companies have little to no incentive to refrain from illegal marketing and to give fair warning about the dangerous and deadly side effects that their products carry. They know how to run the numbers to determine if the profits will outweigh the penalties.

Until individuals pay a personal price for their criminal and unethical decisions, there will be no reason for the drug makers to concern themselves with the well-being and safety of consumers. Until decision makers in the pharmaceutical companies are at risk of losing life and liberty for the harm they cause and lives lost as a result of their deception and greed, there will be no change in the way they do business.


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