To Tell the Truth: Eli Lilly and Zyprexa

Our parents instilled it in us at a young age: be honest. Our marketing professors certainly touted the same message: tell the truth. So what happens when we ignore the advice of our elders? Ask major pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, who recently settled billion dollar lawsuits with over 30 states, including South Carolina, for allegedly fraudulently marketing their antipsychotic drug and top seller, Zyprexa.
Zyprexa is approved for treating patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. While doctors can prescribe medications for off-label uses, it is illegal for sales representatives to market off-label uses to physicians. Over 30 state attorneys general held that Eli Lilly was doing just that by promoting the drug’s possible benefits for pediatrics, dementia and depression treatment in addition to not fully disclosing harmful side effects.  Eli Lilly paid $1.42 billion dollars to end the criminal probe and settle civil suits.  The company still claims no wrongdoing in the civil suits but pled guilty to a misdemeanor to the FDA for promoting off-label dementia treatment usage of Zyprexa.

For a drug that has brought in $37 billion in revenue, $1.42 billion may seem like pocket change, but that figure doesn’t consider Eli Lilly’s loss in the court of public opinion. When 45 states take some form of legal action against a company for its alleged illegal actions and dishonesty, especially when it pertains to health, people notice.

As public relations professionals, we always stress to our clients that honesty is the best policy. As Eli Lilly tries to rebuild its image and reputation, the public’s trust and confidence in pharmaceuticals and big business continues to fall during the current economic climate.


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