Lexapro. (Photo: Tom Varco via Wikimedia Commons)

If the plaintiffs have their way, a federal judge should not dismiss their complaint that Forest Laboratories Inc. misrepresented the safety of using antidepressants Celexa and Lexapro in a pediatric population.

In a lawsuit in Massachusetts federal court, the plaintiffs assert that the defendants suppressed negative study results, made false representations in advertising and marketing materials, selectively disseminated medical publications in order to mislead physicians and patients, and induced prescribers by giving physicians research grants, honoraria, gifts and paying them for promotional speeches.

Forest agreed to pay $313 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims under the False Claims Act for their off-label promotion of Celexa and Lexapro for use in pediatric patients, according to court papers.

The plaintiffs are Allied Services Division Welfare Fund and New Mexico UFCW Union’s and Employer’s Health and Welfare Trust Fund. They are third-party payors who assert that they would not have paid for Celexa and Lexapro but for the defendants conduct, and they seek to represent a national class of third-party payors.

“The defendants’ unlawful promotion and marketing of Celexa/Lexapro for pediatric uses resulted in the denial of plaintiffs’ and other class members’ opportunity to make fully informed decisions about whether and how to include Celexa/Lexapro on their formularies and caused them to pay for more prescriptions than plaintiff would have absent defendants’ unlawful conduct,” the plaintiffs said in court papers.

Their claims against Forest allege violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, violations of state consumer protection laws and unjust enrichment.

The plaintiffs said their case is timely because the statute of limitations was tolled during the pendency of a prior class action.

Arguing against the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs said they have sufficiently alleged in their complaint that physicians, consultants and marketing firms were members of a joint enterprise to increase the off-label use of Celexa and Lexapro, including describing the incentives used to attract them to the enterprise.

“The injury to plaintiffs is not speculative or conjectural,” the plaintiffs said. “It is concrete in that plaintiffs and other ]third-party payors] paid for prescriptions that resulted from defendants’ illegal marketing scheme.”