Pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies are held to strict ethical guidelines when it comes to marketing their products. Most of the monitoring for these practices comes from within each company or pharmacy. Attorneys that are well-versed in the ethical guidelines and statutory restrictions for pharmaceutical marketing will be able to create a self-regulating system to ensure compliance.
Some common unethical marketing practices are: making inaccurate claims about the safety or efficacy of their drugs, unethical incentives to doctors, bypassing specific advertising laws by targeting students or social media, and even healthcare fraud. These ethical violations can sometimes be only aspirational, but many times they invoke criminal or civil sanctions. Usually, these companies are involved in violations of the Anti-Kickback statute, which involves giving financial incentives to doctors to hock their products. For example, one major case involved a pharmaceutical company influencing doctors to use one of their medications for a purpose that was off-label (which is not approved by the FDA). While doctors are allowed to do this, pharmaceutical companies are not.
In the event you or your pharmacy become the subject of a federal investigation, it is prudent to contact an attorney who is well-versed in both federal and state laws concerning healthcare fraud. Usually, the investigation involves a subpoena requesting documents and/or testimony, and it is only then that you or the company will realize they are the subject of the investigation. Very often, it can be too late to begin an internal investigation to figure out what is going on. An attorney will be able to pressure the government to release what exactly it is investigating, thus aiding any internal investigation. This could help the company curb criminal behavior immediately, rather than wait for a lengthy investigation process by a third party to show what’s been happening (and has allowed to continue to happen over the course of the investigation). Second, if you hire an attorney before the government is involved, he or she can help you develop policies and procedures to punish employees engaging in unethical behavior, and reward those who do right.
Many pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies can also get themselves involved in healthcare fraud. This usually involves falsifying or increasing prices within individual pharmacies, or even billing for medications that were not prescribed. Unfortunately for those accused of these crimes, once the prosecution begins, defenses are often not very effective. The government will not prosecute unless they can be sure of a successful outcome. For that reason, having an attorney on your side can make a huge difference. First, the attorney will be able to protect you from unreasonable requests from the prosecution, as well as help guide you through what can be a very complex procedural mess. Then, the attorney can get you a more favorable outcome through negotiating with the prosecution for a good plea deal. This could involve payment of fines, restitution, some time served or even community supervision, and most likely, the revocation of your professional license. While this seems harsh, remember that the Medicaid and Medicare systems are robbed of billions of dollars each year – taxpayer dollars – by unscrupulous medical workers. This is not a victimless crime.