One pill doesn’t cure all

The makers of an epilepsy drug that was later marketed as a treatment for schizophrenia as well as dementia-related agitation must pay $1.5 billion to settle a mass of lawsuits. The claims allege that Abbott Laboratories, producers of Depakote, pushed for sales of the drug to treat schizophrenia and dementia-related agitation, even though the drug was not approved for such treatment, nor was there any scientific evidence to support use of the drug for those conditions.

Oregon psychiatrist Daniel E. Casey headed a study in 2003 that supposedly found Depakote to be effective in the treatment of schizophrenia. It was later determined that the study did not find scientific evidence to support that claim and that the study could have been interpreted as misleading. At the time, though, the study and Abbott’s marketing of the drug made it a very popular treatment for schizophrenia. Sales in 2007 alone reached $1.6 billion.

After a study in 2004 concluded that the 2003 study had been incorrect, and that Depakote was not effective in treating schizophrenia, Abbott continued to market it as such and did not release the 2004 study until late 2008. State investigators contend Casey was paid by Abbott to promote Depakote to doctors.

Federal investigators were tipped off to problems with Depakote by whistleblowers at Abbott. In 1999 a clinical trial in which Depakote was used to treat agitation related to dementia had to be discontinued due to a host of negative side effects. Despite this, Abbott continued to promote sales of Depakote to nursing homes until 2006.

For more on this story, see this article.