Pfizer is currently marketing Neurontin as an oral medication for managing postherptic neuralgia, the pain that lingers after shingles has healed. This is an FDA-approved use, and studies have shown that Neurontin works to reduce patients' pain. It is a good drug, with many useful applications and few negative side effects, but it has a surprisingly long and sordid past.
Neurontin was originally approved in 1993 for the treatment of partial seizures in adults and children, especially epileptic seizures. However, this limited market for a drug with so few side effects was not enough for the company, Warner-Lambert. The company set up a massive campaign to improve sales of Neurontin, and it worked. By 2002 Neurontin was a $2 billion dollar drug, outselling even Viagra. How did a little epilepsy drug come to claim such a huge number of patients? It did so illicitly.
There are not enough patients suffering from epilepsy that one drug could earn profits of $2 billion a year. In order to claim these kinds of profits, Warner-Lambert began promoting the drug for off-label uses. The company sent representatives directly to doctors, urging them to prescribe Neurontin for to treat not only epilepsy but also bipolar disorder, alcohol withdrawal, cocaine abuse, HIV/AIDS neuropathy, phantom limb pain, anxiety, and a host of other diverse and unrelated conditions.
Though it has since been shown to work for some of these conditions, it was not clear at the time exactly what Neurontin did. The Warner-Lambert salesmen were lying to doctors about what Neurontin could do, and the doctors were listening. While it is illegal for a drug company to promote off-label uses directly and immoral to bribe doctors into prescribing a certain drug, it was also absolutely dangerous to claim Neurontin could cure disorders that it simply couldn't.
For example, Neurontin has no effect on bipolar disorder. Warner-Lambert sold thousands of doctors on the idea that Neurontin should be prescribed for bipolar disorder. If it did not work, they suggested increasing the dosage. One of the drug company managers told a salesman: "I don't want to see a single patient coming off Neurontin before they've been up to at least 4,800 milligrams a day. I don't want to hear that safety crap either.... It's a great drug." An untold number of bipolar patients were taken off their FDA-approved medication and prescribed Neurontin alone. Although Neurontin has few side effects, it also did nothing for their disorder, leaving these patients effectively unmedicated. Nobody knows how many lives were shattered as a result, but unmedicated bipolar disorder has a mortality rate of 55-60%.
Luckily for the public and patients taking Neurontin, a Warner-Lambert sales representative came forward and revealed the entire scandal. Pfizer has now purchased the Warner-Lambert Company, making Pfizer responsible for the injuries caused by the drug it now profits from. Lawsuits are being filed to claim damages for the dangerous corporate marketing strategies that have caused so much pain. If you or someone you love was wrongly administered Neurontin, please contact a lawyer and discuss your options.
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