In a recent development, Federal Prosecutors in Boston announced a civil lawsuit against Forest Laboratories. You may ask yourself, what did Forest Laboratories do? The answer is, they promoted two drugs, Lexapro, for adults and Celexa, for kids. You may ask yourself, so what? Well let’s dig deeper.
Forest hired doctors to "educate" other doctors about the benefits of the costly drug, Lexapro because Celexa was off patent and would not be a billion dollar seller. It turns out that Forest licensed Celexa from a Danish pharmaceutical company, Lundbeck. Without getting technical, Lundbeck’s patent was about to run, so they modified it ever so slightly and renamed it Lexapro. So, you may again be asking, why does that matter? It matters because once Forest licensed Lexapro, their marketing team went out and trumpeted Lexapro as superior to Celexa.
The Food and Drug Administration couldn’t tell Lexapro from Celexa (the off patent drug), so Lexapro’s sales went to $2.3B, yes billion, in 2008. Celexa sells for a fraction of Lexapro because it is off patent. Lexapro is $87.99/month and Celexa is $14.99/month. They are the same drug! Indeed, the FDA couldn’t tell them apart!
Why then are doctors prescribing Lexapro rather than Celexa? Because Forest gives more food and money to doctors than all but a few of its much larger rivals. Hmm, could that be the reason?
Fact: in 2004, Forest spent $24.7M to pay 2,000 psychiatrists and primary care doctors to give marketing lectures. Marketing lectures earn shrinks and primary care docs more than their annual salaries. Perhaps that why so many Lexapro prescriptions were written.
Is there a lesson here, not just a rant? Yes, grab hold of your medical care and research what you’re being prescribed. Further, look at cheaper alternatives and generics and ask your doctor whether they are available.