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Pfizer settles with 19 states on antibiotic ads

Pfizer Inc. has agreed to pay $6 million to resolve allegations of misleading advertising for its popular Zithromax, the world's No. 2 oral antibiotic.

The New York-based pharmaceutical company will pay $4 million to Texas and 18 other states to cover the costs of an investigation into the allegations and will spend $2 million over the next three years to finance public service announcements educating patients about antibiotic resistance, the ineffectiveness of antibiotics in combating viral infections and factors doctors use to determine how to treat infections.

Sales of Zithromax reached $1.5 billion in 2001, according to Pfizer's Web site.

Texas will receive $300,000 from the settlement, said Christine Pritchard, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Texas was one of the lead states in the investigation, along with California, Florida, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin, she said.

The company also agreed to make changes in the material it uses to advertise Zithromax, including stating whether it paid for studies that are cited, Spitzer said Monday.

"This agreement sends a strong message that advertisements that mislead or fail to provide complete information about pharmaceutical products will meet with tough enforcement actions," Spitzer said.

Pfizer didn't admit any wrongdoing or violation of laws as part of the voluntary settlement.

The attorneys general alleged Pfizer's advertising misrepresented the effectiveness of Zithromax. The attorneys general also alleged the company focused its advertising on dosing convenience, such as the need for fewer daily doses and fewer days of medication, without mentioning doctors take into account a number of other factors when prescribing dosages. These ads falsely implied Zithromax was superior to other antibiotics, according to Spitzer's office.

In a statement, Pfizer maintains all the advertising and promotional materials for Zithromax have been consistent with the drug's labeling. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved all the promotional materials, the company said.

Zithromax is the trademark for the drug azithromycin. The antibiotic often is prescribed to treat respiratory infections in children and adults. For adults, these infections include bacterial bronchitis and pneumonia. Zithromax is used to treat children's ear infections and tonsillitis.

Zithromax is given as a tablet to adults and is available as a liquid for children. The drug is taken once a day.

The drug first was approved in the United States in 1992. To date, more than 41 million prescriptions for the drug have been written in the United States.


Eric Durr, . Albany Business Review. January 7, 2003

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