Michael J. Sullivan (R)

BOSTON -- The U.S. Attorney's office in Massachusetts has no doubt bolstered attorneys-general nationwide in their on-going efforts to win big settlements from "Big Pharma" drugmakers.

District Attorney Michael J. Sullivan on Friday announced that Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMS) and subsidiary Apothecon Inc. would pay over $515 million to settle an array of federal and state lawsuits over anti-psychotic drug Abilify. The suits claimed BMS marketed the drug illegally and paid kickbacks to prescribers.

State attorneys-general have already sued Eli Lilly over similar "off-label" marketing of its anti-psychotic drug, Zyprexa. Thirty state AGs are currently investigating industry-wide off-label marketing - where drugs are prescibed for uses other than approved - of anti-anxiety drugs, LNL reported.

Similar lawsuits against off-label marketing have been launched against Pfizer's Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory medication since withdrawn from the market because of harmful side-effects.

BMS said in a release Friday that the civil settlement with Sullivan's office had been agreed in principle in December 2006. The company has also forged a five-year agreement with the state Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services over its pharmaceuticals business.

Since 2000 the Massachusetts D.A.'s office has raked in some $4 billion from settlements with health-care companies over fraud suits, the Boston Globe reported Saturday. Friday's $515 million agreement with BMS is only the third-largest landed by the office, the Globe added, and covers the period 2000-2005.

The state alleged BMS and Apothecon offered kickbacks to doctors who prescribed Abilify from 2000 to 2003. It then claims BMS promoted Abilify, approved for anti-psychotic use and to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disporder, as a treatment for children and elderly dementia patients.

The suit included six filed against BMS in the District of Massachusetts and one from the Southern District of Florida, Sullivan's release stated. Company whstleblowers, who assisted the state's case, will receive $50 million between them.

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