AbbVie OKs $24M lawsuit settlement, accused of using nurses to boost Humira

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AbbVie has agreed to pay $24 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of paying kickbacks to physicians and using nurses to boost prescriptions of Humira, its best-selling rheumatoid arthritis drug. 

The lawsuit, which was filed in a California state court in 2018, claimed that, over a five-year period, AbbVie offered physicians cash, meals, drinks, trips and patient referrals to persuade them to write more prescriptions for Humira. 

It also claimed that Abbvie instructed nurses, which the drugmaker called "ambassadors," to ensure that prescriptions of Humira were being filled. Nurses were allegedly instructed to report any patient questions or complaints about the drug to AbbVie rather than to physicians. 

The lawsuit also claimed AbbVie engaged in insurance fraud. 

"AbbVie’s prior practices in marketing Humira egregiously put profits ahead of transparency in patient care and violated California law,” Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara stated

As part of the settlement, AbbVie will require nurses to disclose to patients that they work for the drugmaker. Humira sales representatives will be banned from inviting prescribers to off-site business meals, other than speaker programs. 

An AbbVie spokesperson told STAT that the settlement "lets patients continue to benefit from the high levels of engagement and support offered by the nurse ambassador program, with no significant changes to that program."

The spokesperson added that patient support programs are important for helping patients access and adhere to prescribed treatments.

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