Federal Suit: Drugmaker Made False Claims, Offered Doctors Cash to Write Prescriptions

Drugmaker Forest Laboratories Inc. offered kickbacks to doctors for prescribing its antidepressants Celexa and Lexapro and pushed the drugs for unapproved use on children, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by federal prosecutors.

The New York-based drugmaker offered cash payments, expensive meals and entertainment to induce doctors and others to prescribe the drugs, the complaint said. It also accused Forest of promoting Celexa for pediatric use, even though a study showed it was no more effective than a placebo for children.

The allegations were contained in a suit the Department of Justice filed in federal court alleging Forest triggered thousands of fraudulent claims to federal health care programs like Medicaid.

Forest executive Frank Murdolo said he hasn't seen the complaint and could not comment on it. But he said it stemmed from a federal government investigation into his company's marketing practices that dates back to 2004.

The vice president of investor relations said Forest has disclosed this investigation in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"It's the formalization of that investigation, basically, but it's not new as far as a disclosure issue to the company," he said.

The complaint also said the Celexa study found that more patients taking the drug attempted suicide or reported suicidal thoughts than those taking the placebo. The Food and Drug Administration denied Forest's request to sell the drug for children, but that failed to dissuade the drugmaker.

"Over the course of more than half a decade, Forest illegally marketed two related antidepressant drugs, Celexa and Lexapro, for off-label use in pediatric patients when both drugs had been approved only for adult use," the complaint states.

Pharmaceutical companies are prohibited from promoting drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.