The state of California has filed a lawsuit against AbbVie, accusing the pharmaceutical company of giving doctors money and gifts to write more prescriptions for the drug Humira. The drug treats rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, but comes with complications that could be deadly.
According to the lawsuit, AbbVie paid for doctors’ meals, drinks and travel to convince them to overprescribe Humira. The pharmaceutical company also offered the doctors free insurance processing, medical practice management hardware and software, and marketing assistance, which saved them staff time and resources.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said that insurance companies paid more than $1.2 billion for Humira for California patients between 2013 and 2018, making the lawsuit the biggest healthcare fraud case in the state’s insurance department’s history.
The lawsuit also stated that AbbVie paid for registered nurses that it called ambassadors to assist doctors with patients who were taking Humira. The nurses were trained to sell the drug while downplaying its risks.
“AbbVie spent millions convincing patients and health care professionals that AbbVie Ambassadors were patient advocates — in fact, the Ambassadors were Humira advocates hired to do one thing, keep patients on a dangerous drug at any cost,” Jones said.
AbbVie spokeswoman Adelle Infante said that the allegations in the lawsuit don’t have any merit and the company follows state and federal laws governing interactions between health-care providers and patients.
The allegations were originally brought to light by Lazaro Suarez, a registered nurse who worked for a contractor — QuintilesIMS that was hired by the drug maker to develop the network of AbbieVie’s Ambassador nurses. Suarez trained nurses who visited Humira patients around the country.