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Lawsuits fail to stem flow of antipsychotic pills to kids
By MICHAEL LAFORGIA
Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice has continued giving children antipsychotic pills despite a series of lawsuits filed against the drugs' makers in the past three years.
The cases sometimes accused drug companies of improperly pushing the pills on children. They resulted in the companies paying hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and settlements to federal and state governments and whistleblowers.
Last year, AstraZeneca paid $520 million to settle allegations that it illegally marketed Seroquel for use in children and in prisons, among other claims.
In two years ending in mid 2008, DJJ bought jailed children 217,563 tablets of Seroquel in various dosages, records show. The department purchased only brand-name drugs, and buying them in those amounts cost DJJ more than $1.1 million, or about one-third of all the money it spent on pharmaceuticals in the two-year period.
In 2007, Bristol-Myers Squibb paid more than $515 million to settle a range of allegations brought by the U.S. Justice Department. Among the claims was that the company marketed its antipsychotic Abilify for uses in kids that never were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
DJJ bought children 55,156 tablets of Abilify during the two-year period, shelling out $661,360 for the drugs.
South Carolina's attorney general sued drugmaker Johnson & Johnson in 2007, claiming that the company's antipsychotic Risperdal was "defective and unreasonably dangerous" and "unreasonably hazardous to human health," among other things. A jury in March found that the pharmaceutical giant broke state law in marketing the drug for use in children and other groups. A judge has yet to rule on damages.
DJJ bought children 34,729 tablets of Risperdal, at a cost of $198,566 .
Most recently, in March, Florida joined 36 other states in suing AstraZeneca, alleging that the company knew Seroquel could be harmful yet marketed it, illegally, for off-label use in children and the elderly. AstraZeneca agreed to pay $68.5 million to settle the states' claims.
All during the time it took Florida to prepare, negotiate and settle the lawsuit, workers were doling out Seroquel to kids in DJJ custody.
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