Ethical drugs and off-label use – how crossing the line can cost Companies big!

Off-label marketing and fines in the healthcare industry are nothing new. Companies and physicians see anecdotal evidence of therapeutic efficacy with products and want patients to benefit.  Is the motive for profit or for health?  The line can become blurred, and some cross the line between ethical and non-ethical promotion.

The recent record breaking $3 billion healthcare fraud settlement levied against GlaxoSmithKline is the latest headline relating to marketing issues in the healthcare industry. Prior to the GlaxoSmithKline case, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca all worked through (and paid) their share of settlements.

This begs the question – where do I, as a PR professional, draw the line? More so than in other industries, marketing and healthcare often butt heads due to stringent marketing regulations and an eagle eye from the FDA and the Justice Department. The implications for false marketing are heightened; $3 billion is not pocket change.

As a PR professional, it is important to set your own ethical standards so that, in the event you are faced with a questionable situation, you know how to respond. This advice applies not only to healthcare, but to all industries. Every sector has their crises and taking these steps can help prevent them from taking place on your watch.

To get started, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:


  1. If something feels wrong, take a step back and look at the whole situation. There’s a reason your parents always told you to go with your gut. Often times we get caught up in the moment. Don’t let that happen to you.
  2. Be well-versed in the marketing rules and regulations that apply to your clients. Your client may not know that their request toes the line of legitimacy. As a marketing professional, it is your job to guide them through the gray areas.
  3. In the event that you find yourself entrenched in an ethically unsound situation, make sure you are giving your client sound and solid counsel as to the right course of action. While it may not be the easiest path, it is better to act quickly and resolve the issue as soon as possible– you and your client’s reputation will thank you for it.


This list is by no means exhaustive; take the time to create your own. This is an opportunity to revisit what you personally want to prioritize in your career.


Connect with Jordan:

Phone: 646.386.2921
Twitter: @jordanvbaxter
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