(Adds sales data, detail from complaint, stock close)
WASHINGTON Feb 25 The United States accused
Forest Laboratories Inc FRX.N of inappropriately marketing
the drugs Celexa and Lexapro for children and paying kickbacks
like spa visits to pediatricians who prescribed the drugs, the
Justice Department said on Wednesday.
Prosecutors said the antidepressant Celexa was no more
effective than a placebo when taken by children or teenagers,
and, in fact, more patients taking Celexa reported suicidal
thoughts or attempted suicide.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Celexa to treat
adult depression but refused to approve it for children, and
required that Forest put a warning on the labels for Celexa
Lexapro. The two are chemically similar.
Frank Murdolo, Forest Laboratory's vice president of
investor relations, said that the company was working with the
government in an investigation that dates to 2004.
"We've seen the release but that's all we've seen," he
said. "We'll look at the complaint, see what's there. We'll see
what the next steps are."
Lexapro is Forest's top-selling drug with sales of $585.5
million in the third quarter of fiscal 2009. Celexa lost patent
protection and is no longer a major product for the company.
In the complaint, Forest is accused of pushing aside a
study showing that Celexa was ineffective for pediatric use and
instead urged its sales staff to promote a second, more
That promotion involved fishing trips, golf and spa outings
as well as tickets for physicians to attend sporting events and
the Broadway theater as well as meals at fine restaurants, the
Some were also given cash for participating on advisory
"Ostensibly, Forest paid physicians to attend these
advisory boards to get their feedback on the marketing of
Celexa and Lexapro," the complaint said. "In reality, as
repeatedly reported in internal company documents, Forest
intended that the advisory boards induce the attendees to
prescribe more Celexa and Lexapro."
The Justice Department said those actions violated laws
that forbid kickbacks.
"The United States alleges that federal health care
programs have paid thousands of false and fraudulent claims for
Celexa and Lexapro prescriptions that were not covered for
off-label pediatric use and/or were ineligible for payment as a
result of illegal kickbacks paid by Forest," the department
said in a statement.
Forest's stock closed down $1.29, or 5.3 percent, at $23.14
on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.
The government's lawsuit was unsealed in U.S. District
Court in Massachusetts. It is civil action no. 03-10395-NMG and
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick,