Prescription drugs at a pharmacy.
Prescription drugs at a pharmacy. - 
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Drug companies paid a record 4.5 billion dollars in fines and settlements this year. About half of that for one crime: off-label drug marketing.

From the Marketplace Health Desk at WHYY in Philadelphia, Gregory Warner reports.

Gregory Warner: Off-label marketing is when a company promotes a drug for a use that's not been approved by the FDA. The anti-psychotic Seroquel is approved for just bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. AstraZeneca has been accused of boosting sales by promoting the drug to treat autism, anxiety disorder and other common conditions. The company paid $500 million to end that investigation. Novartis, Allergan and other drugmakers have also paid big off-label marketing fines this year.

Adriane Fugh-Berman: The return on investment is so high, that the fines to date have been a reasonable cost of doing business for them.

Adriane Fugh-Berman analyzes drug marketing at Georgetown University Medical Center. She says big fines don't change behavior. The Department of Justice may concur. The agency has promised to start suing drug company managers, not just their companies.

Fugh-Berman: When people are personally held responsible, I think that will make a difference in corporate cultures.

Last month a lawyer for GlaxoSmithKline was sued for obstructing an off-label investigation.

In Philadelphia, I'm Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

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Follow Gregory Warner at @radiogrego