Although GlaxoSmithKline has just been hit by the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history, $3 billion for unlawful promotion, the influential US consumer group Public Citizen believes bigger penalties are necessary to stop such practices.

Earlier this week, the UK drugs major pleaded guilty and confirmed it will pay $3 billion in fines for unlawful promotion of the antidepressants Paxil (paroxetine) and Wellbutrin (bupropion) and for failing to report safety data about its diabetes drug Avandia (rosiglitazone).  However, "despite the seemingly large sums", Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group believes it is not enough.

He claimed that the fines imposed on pharmaceutical companies "for dangerous and illegal conduct pale in comparison to the profits generated from such activity". In his view, "the industry is therefore tacitly encouraged to continue its illegal activity".

Dr Wolfe went on to say that the settlement of criminal and civil violations "is nothing new for GSK". He made reference to a 2010 Public Citizen report, which states that the firm "racked up more in fines and settlement payouts to the federal and state governments ($4.5 billion) than any other pharmaceutical company from 1991 through November 1, 2010".

__Dr Wolfe says that "until more meaningful penalties and the prospect of jail time for company heads who are responsible for such activity become commonplace, companies will continue defrauding the government and putting patients’ lives in danger".