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After two years of wrangling, AbbVie (ABBV) agreed to pay $24 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the California insurance commissioner, who accused the drug maker of paying kickbacks to doctors and using a stealthy network of nurses to illegally boost prescriptions of its best-selling Humira treatment.

Over a five-year period, the drug maker offered physicians a familiar menu of tempting items, from cash, meals, and drinks, to gifts and trips, along with patient referrals, in hopes they would write more prescriptions for the rheumatoid arthritis medicine, according to the lawsuit. Humira is a franchise product for AbbVie and last year generated $14.8 billion in sales in the U.S. alone.


The lawsuit also contended the company hired third-party contractors to deploy nurses — sometimes by phone, sometimes in patient homes — to ensure that prescriptions were refilled. The use of so-called nurse educators — which AbbVie called nurse ambassadors — raised ethical questions because they blurred the line between caregiver and marketer.

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