Second Circuit Court of Appeals Issues Blow Against Off-Label Promotion Enforcement

by Dechert LLP

In a split decision today, a panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned ― on First Amendment grounds ― the criminal conviction of a pharmaceutical sales representative who had promoted Jazz Pharmaceutical’s Xyrem for off-label use. Caronia.pdf.

As an aside, Xyrem, is also known as gamma-hydroxybutyrate or “GHB.” GHB is a powerful and fast-acting central nervus system depressant that has been subject to abuse as a recreational drug and is classified by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as a “date rape” drug.

Caronia was convicted under 21 U.S.C. § 333(a)(2) which makes misbranding an FDA-licensed drug product criminal. A drug is misbranded if, inter alia, its labeling fails to bear "adequate directions for use," 21 U.S.C. § 352(f), which FDA regulations define as "directions under which the lay[person] can use a drug safely and for the purposes for which it is intended," 21 C.F.R. § 201.5. The Food and Drug Act itself does not expressly prohibit or criminalize off- label promotion, but the FDA’s policy has been to consider off-label promotion as showing intent to misbrand per se in that the label would not have adequate directions for the off-label use.

In overturning Caronia’s conviction, the panel held:

Accordingly, even if speech can be used as evidence of a drug's intended use, we decline to adopt the government's construction of the FDCA's misbranding provisions to prohibit manufacturer promotion alone as it would unconstitutionally restrict free speech. We construe the misbranding provisions of the FDCA as not prohibiting and criminalizing the truthful off-label promotion of FDA- approved prescription drugs. Slip Op. at 51.

The panel majority reasoned that the pharmaceutical company’s First Amendment rights to speak about off-label uses is not trumped by any legitimate governmental purpose under Constitutional standards. In fact, the panel made much of the fact that off-label prescription is not illegal and emphasized that as a result, the dissemination of truthful information about off-label uses has positive effects:

As off-label drug use itself is not prohibited, it does not follow that prohibiting the truthful promotion of off-label drug usage by a particular class of speakers would directly further the government's goals of preserving the efficacy and integrity of the FDA's drug approval process and reducing patient exposure to unsafe and ineffective drugs. Slip Op. at 42-42.

It was the majority’s opinion that criminalizing off-label promotion is an ineffective means to achieve the FDA’s mission:

If the government's objective is to shepherd physicians to prescribe drugs only on-label, criminalizing manufacturer promotion of off-label use while permitting others to promote such use to physicians is an indirect and questionably effective means to achieve that goal. Thus, the government's construction of the FDCA's misbranding provisions does not directly advance its interest in reducing patient exposure to off-label drugs or in preserving the efficacy of the FDA drug approval process because the off-label use of such drugs continues to be generally lawful. Accordingly, the government's prohibition of off-label promotion by pharmaceutical manufacturers "provides only ineffective or remote support for the government's purpose." Slip Op. at 47.

One panel judge, Debra Ann Livingston, strongly dissented from the holding. She emphasized the long enforcement against off-label promotion and disagreed with the majority’s Constitutional reasoning. This decision can be appealed to the entire Second Circuit sitting en banc, and/or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Enforcement against off-label promotion is a huge aspect of FDA regulatory power, and a major concern of pharma companies. Many companies have paid fines in excess of a billion dollars to settle off-label marketing prosecutions. Indeed, in 2007, Caronia’s employer, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, itself paid a $20 million settlement for off-label promotion of Xyrem. Hence, companies heavily invest in compliance strategies to avoid prosecution, and are heavily limited in the means they have to convey information about their drugs.

It will be fascinating to see whether other courts follow the Caronia decision, and whether pharma companies alter their promotional techniques as a result of this case or its aftermath.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Dechert LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Dechert LLP

Dechert LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.