If “three strikes” laws applied to corporate “people” as they do to natural humans, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) would be spending the rest of its life behind bars. Unfortunately, as we have seen, giving corporations human “rights” doesn't mean they have human accountability.
Despite having been heavily fined by the Department of Justice in 2007 and penalized again by the FDA in 2016 for deceptive marketing and promoting of the drug Abilify for unapproved off-label use, BMS continues to rake in profits from what has been one of the top-selling prescription medication in the U.S. This has been easy for them, because Abilify (aripiprizole) has few competitors, and the FDA is compromised and does very little in the way of taking real action against corporate miscreants.
Abilify was first approved by the FDA in 2002 for the treatment of schizophrenia, a mental disorder which causes the victim to experience delusions, extreme paranoia and in some cases, hallucinations. Today, Abilify is prescribed for a number of major and minor mental disorders, including bipolar disorder, depression, moodiness and aggressive behavior.
Since it came onto the market, the FDA has reported nearly 14,000 serious adverse events involving Abilify. Nearly 5400 of those occurred last year. Over 800 of these cases required hospitalization. Approximately one-third of the cases reported in 2016 involved depression and suicidal thoughts – two of the conditions for which the manufacturer claims Abilify is an effective treatment.
In fact, there is serious evidence indicating that the benefits of Abilify aren't worth the risks. Of course, many medications pose the risk of side effects; but in most cases, medical studies and reputable scientists conclude that the potential benefits to the patient outweigh such risks. Furthermore, those risks are usually prominently listed on the label, so patients and their doctors can make an informed decision.
This was not the case with Abilify, however. In the first point, recent clinical study found Abilify's benefits to be negligible at best. On the second, a label warning regarding Abilify's tendency to make people behave in reckless, impulsive ways was not included on U.S. packaging until last year, although it appeared on packages sold in the rest of the world for years. There is also research that has proven the existence of a link between Abilify and destructive, compulsive behaviors dating back to 2011.
This is yet one more example of a corporate felon thumbing its nose at the society that has allowed it to do business and prosper. Bristol-Meyers Squibb, like so many other Big Pharma companies, has been concealing information about the dangers of its products and overstating the benefits, aggressively marketing Abilify (to the tune of $121 million back in 2013-14, several times the advertising budgets of its competitors) for anything the company believes a doctor might prescribe it for.
It does this all for the sake of maximizing profits. Unfortunately, while a few multi-million dollar settlements may help victims to rebuild their lives, they won't put much of a dent in the company's bottom line. BMS raked in $6.5 billion in Abilify sales in 2013 alone.
Compared to that, a few hundred million dollars in fines and judgments is petty cash – and for BMS and Otsuka, nothing more than part of the cost of doing business.