States accuse Amgen of Aranesp kickbacks

The drug-marketing crackdown continues. Fourteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia have sued Amgen and drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen over alleged kickbacks aimed at goosing sales of the anemia treatment Aranesp. The government suits join a whistleblower case filed back in 2006.

"Drugs should be prescribed to patients on the basis of need, effectiveness, and safety, not on a corporate giants promise of an all-expense paid vacation," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "In an egregious violaiton of the law, Amgen allegedly bribed medical providers and left taxpayers footing the bill for free drug samples."

Say what? Aren't free drug samples free? According to this lawsuit, Aranesp wasn't. The complaint alleges that Amgen and Amerisource gave free Aranesp to medical providers, then encouraged them to bill Medicaid and other payers for those samples. As further inducement, the suit says, Amgen offered providers weekend retreats, sham consulting jobs, and other "illegal kickbacks" to persuade them to prescribe Aranesp.

An Amgen spokesman told Reuters that the allegations "lack merit" and that the company requires employees to follow a code of conduct prohibiting such behavior. For its part, AmerisourceBergen told the news service that it is cooperating with a related Justice Department subpoena. Presumably Amgen is as well. Both companies promised to defend themselves "vigorously."

- see the release from Cuomo's office
- get the New York Times story
- read the article from Reuters