Jurors today acquitted eight current and former employees of TAP Pharmaceutical Products of charges they offered doctors improper consulting fees, dinners, golf trips and other kickbacks to get them to prescribe certain drugs.
The federal jury deliberated for parts of four days following a three-month trial.
The case against Lake Forest, Ill.-based TAP Pharmaceutical Products had been closely watched by the drug industry and the medical profession, which have been criticized in recent years for giving and receiving freebies. Critics say the practice drives up the already high costs of prescription drugs and erodes public confidence that doctors are prescribing the right medicines.
Prosecutors argued that the TAP employees lavished golf and ski trips, free dinners and other incentives on doctors, along with free drug samples, in exchange for the physicians' agreement to prescribe TAP's prostate cancer drug Lupron and the heartburn medicine Prevacid.
The government also charged that current and former executives and sales managers at TAP conspired to defraud Medicare and Medicaid by urging doctors to bill the government for the free drug samples.
But defense lawyers argued that the employees offered the samples to promote the drugs, a practice that is legal, and that the employees offered standard consulting fees to doctors, who were not obligated in return to prescribe TAP's drugs. The defense also said the employees never encouraged doctors to bill Medicare and Medicaid for the free samples.
TAP itself was not on trial. The government settled with the company in 2001 for $875 million.
The government's star witness was Doug Durand, TAP's former vice president of sales, who filed a whistleblower lawsuit in 1996 alleging that some members of the company's sales force were offering kickbacks to doctors.
As the chief whistleblower in the case, Durand received $42 million as part of the government's settlement with TAP, a 50-50 venture between Abbott Laboratories, of Abbott Park, Ill., and Takeda Chemical Industries Ltd. in Japan.