» Drug, Devices, and Supplements

» Physician Accountability

» Consumer Product Safety

» Worker Safety

» Health Care Delivery

» Auto and Truck Safety

» Global Access to Medicines

» Infant Formula Marketing


Read our outrages

If you're not outraged,
you're not paying attention!

Read what Public Citizen has to say about the biggest blunders and outrageous offenses in the world of public health, published monthly in Health Letter.

For Big Pharma, Crime Pays

November 2011

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.

On Nov. 3, 2011, GlaxoSmith-Kline (GSK), the world’s fourth largest pharmaceutical company, announced that it had tentatively reached a $3 billion settlement — the largest ever — with the federal government to conclude an investigation into illegal activity going back at least seven years.

GSK allegedly promoted multiple drugs, including the dangerous diabetes drug rosiglitazone (Avandia), for uses for which they were not approved, going so far as to pay kickbacks to get doctors to prescribe the medications. The purported settlement breaks the previous $2.3 billion settlement record set in 2009 by Pfizer.

GSK has repeatedly been fined for unlawful conduct. A 2010 Public Citizen report (“Rapidly Increasing Criminal and Civil Monetary Penalties Against the Pharmaceutical Industry: 1991 to 2010,” at found that, over the past 20 years, GSK racked up $4.5 billion — more than any other company — in fines levied by the federal government and state governments for a plethora of illegal activities.

The pharmaceutical industry has paid more in penalties to the federal government as a result of these settlements than any other industry. The profits generated by such activities are massive, and when companies are caught, CEOs get off scot-free, while the penalties handed down barely put a dent in the drugmakers’ bottom lines.

The $3 billion settlement may seem like a sizeable sum, but consider that, according to The New York Times, GSK reaped profits of $5 billion on $43 billion worth of sales in just this past year alone. And by announcing the settlement in advance of its official conclusion, GSK put an end to years of investor uncertainty. The company’s stock rose 3 percent following the announcement, confirming yet again that for Big Pharma, at least, crime does indeed pay.


Copyright © 2017 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


You can support the fight for greater government and corporate accountability through a donation to either Public Citizen, Inc., or Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.

Public Citizen lobbies Congress and federal agencies to advance Public Citizen’s mission of advancing government and corporate accountability. When you make a contribution to Public Citizen, you become a member of Public Citizen, showing your support and entitling you to benefits such as Public Citizen News. Contributions to Public Citizen are not tax-deductible.

Public Citizen Foundation focuses on research, public education, and litigation in support of our mission. By law, the Foundation can engage in only very limited lobbying. Contributions to Public Citizen Foundation are tax-deductible.