The misdemeanor guilty pleas and $3 billion settlement between GlaxoSmithKline and the Justice Department was a compromise. Like almost every compromise, people on either side of the issue didn't get all they would want.
GSK management and stockholders would have preferred to pay nothing and admit nothing.
The original complaint included discussion of possible inappropriate marketing of a bundle of drugs from 1999 through 2010.
But the final deal on criminal charges involves only three drugs - Paxil, Wellbutrin and Avandia. With Paxil and Wellbutrin, the guilty plea related to inappropriate marketing efforts, including paying doctors for speaking on behalf of the drug, sometimes in very scenic spots. With Avandia, the guilty plea related to failure to provide information that raised concerns about the safety of the drug.
Beyond that, GSK admits very little.
As part of the news release said, "The civil settlement reached with the Government does not constitute an admission of any liability or wrongdoing in the selling and marketing of Lamictal, Zofran, Imitrex, Lotronex, Flovent Valtrex, Avandia or Advair products, nor in its nominal pricing practices."
On the other side of this, critics want pharmaceutical executives to go to jail because they've seen the growth of financial fines not change the behavior. The fines - even billion-dollar fines - are viewed as the cost of doing business.
"Until more meaningful penalties and the prospect of jail time for company heads who are responsible for such activity become commonplace, companies will continue defrauding the government and putting patients’ lives in danger," Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, said in a statement.