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Here's an all-too-rare case of a pharmaceutical company actually held accountable for its marketing practices:

Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company, pleaded guilty yesterday and agreed to pay $430 million to resolve criminal and civil charges that it paid doctors to prescribe its epilepsy drug, Neurontin, to patients with ailments that the drug was not federally approved to treat.

That a pharmaceutical company would overzealously market its drugs is a real shame, but it's not especially disappointing. What's most disappointing is that once again, the marketing campaign seems to have successfully influenced physicians' prescribing habits:

These marketing practices, though, were extremely effective, according to internal company documents. Doctors who attended dinners given by the company to discuss unapproved uses of Neurontin wrote 70 percent more prescriptions for the drug than those who did not attend, one memorandum showed.

There are still a handful of willfully-blind doctors who continue to insist that physicians are not influenced by the marketing efforts of the pharmaceutical industry: the armies of well-dressed young drug reps visiting the office, the pleas from patients for the purple pill they saw advertised on the TV last night, or the "educational" junkets to places like Las Vegas to hear from paid-for speakers before heading off to the casino or the golf course.

Every story like this one, though, makes that argument just a little bit more difficult to make. At least with a straight face.


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