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Prescription Drugs: FDA's Oversight of the Promotion of Drugs for Off-Label Uses

GAO-08-835 Published: Jul 28, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 2008.
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), regulates the promotion of prescription drugs to ensure that promotional materials are not false and misleading and that they comply with applicable laws and regulations. Among other things, FDA prohibits drug companies from promoting drugs for off-label uses--that is, for a condition or patient population for which the drug has not been approved or in a manner that is inconsistent with information found on the approved drug label. Although doctors may prescribe drugs off label, it is not permissible for drug companies to promote drugs for off-label uses. FDA may take regulatory actions for violations, and may also pursue enforcement action through the Department of Justice (DOJ). GAO was asked for information about the promotion of drugs for off-label uses. GAO reviewed (1) how FDA oversees the promotion of off-label uses of prescription drugs and (2) what actions have been taken to address off-label promotions. GAO examined documentation related to the promotion of drugs for off-label uses and FDA correspondence with drug companies on identified violations and obtained information from DOJ on relevant actions. GAO also interviewed officials at FDA and the HHS Office of Inspector General and representatives of national medical and pharmaceutical associations.

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