Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Novartis paid doctors to push three of its products by holding “educational events” on fishing trips and at Hooters restaurants that amounted to little more than parties, according to the federal government.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the U.S. division of Novartis alleging violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute from January 2001 to at least November 2011.

In a news release last week, the department said the company paid physicians to talk about three Novartis medications — hypertension drugs amlodipine/benazepril (Lotrel) and aliskiren/valsartan (Valturna) and diabetes drug nateglinide (Starlix). The events “were often little or nothing more than social occasions for the doctors,” the release said. There is little record that any presentation of the medical effects of the products ever occurred.

“In many instances Novartis made payments to doctors for purported speaker programs that either did not occur at all or that had few or no attendees, and thousands of programs were held all over the country at which few or no slides were shown and the doctors who participated spent little or no time discussing the drug at issue,” the release went on to say.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

David Pittman at MedPage Today:

For example, dinner for three at a high-end Washington restaurant last summer totaled $2,016, or $672 per person, and included a $1,000 honorarium to the speaker. One of the two attendees attended the same program a short time earlier, the Justice Department said. A 2006 dinner for two at a West Des Moines, Iowa, restaurant topped $3,000.

The Justice Department cited an internal analysis of Novartis’ saying the programs resulted in additional prescriptions written from doctors who participated in the program, causing an increase in spending from government programs Medicare, Medicaid, and others.

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