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COMMENTARY:

How We Pay for Pharma’s Crooked Dealings

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation yesterday, 19 November 2009

We pay for drug company malfeasance in the form of higher prices. And when it comes to health care reform, we pay for their creeped out dealings in the form of reduced medical care – especially Medicare – negotiated by our representatives in the interests of fiscal restraint.

As everyone knows by now, the main reason we can’t get a health reform bill enacted is because the phamaceutical and insurance industries aren’t happy with their piece of the action. This despite the fact that when politicians talk about cutting costs, what they really have in mind is cutting services to us so these two big industries can enhance their profitability.

One of the reasons the drug makers need additional revenue is because their employee whistleblowers have screwed up the nerve to report the crooked deals they witness happening every day. “I was trained to do things and did things that were blatantly illegal,” David Franklin, a Parke-Davis whistle-blower, told the Boston Globe in 2003. “I knew my job was to falsely gain physicians’ trust and trade on my graduate degree. If he was a cardiologist, I was an expert in cardiology. If he was a neurologist, I was an expert in neurology.”

That whistleblower exposure can lead to multi million payouts in damages to injured patients as well as for fines due to legal violations. And under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers themselves stand to make millions of dollars for turning in the crooks.

Of course, in the end run, we will be paying for drug company malfeasance in the form of higher prices. And when it comes to health care reform, we will be paying for their creeped out dealings in the form of reduced medical care – especially Medicare – negotiated by our representatives in the interests of fiscal restraint.

None of this would be happening were it not for the greed of Big Pharma, pressure from Wall Street for higher profits, and lack of federal regulation.

In early November the Indiannapolis Star ran down some of the big payouts by the drugsters.

In January, Eli Lilly and Co. agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle charges it illegally promoted its antipsychotic drug, Zyprexa, for unapproved uses. Nine whistle-blowers, former Lilly employees, split about $100 million of the settlement as their reward.

In September, Pfizer said it would pay $2.3 billion to settle charges that it illegally promoted numerous drugs, including the painkiller Bextra. Six whistle-blowers split about $102 million.

In October, AstraZeneca reached a $520 million agreement to settle investigations into illegal marketing of its psychiatric drug, Seroquel. Several whistle-blowers will split an undisclosed amount of money.

And last week, in a courtroom in Trenton, N.J., the latest case began, as a former sales worker at Janssen (owned by Johnson & Johnson) testified she was fired in 2004 for complaining about what she considered pressure to illegally promote the antipsychotic drug Risperdal for unapproved uses.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 active whistle-blower cases are backlogged at the Department of Justice, and about 200 of them deal with drug companies.

Of the top 20 False Claims Act cases, measured by the amount of money recovered, 12 involved judgments or settlements against pharmaceutical companies, accounting for billions of dollars in recoveries.

In 2008, according to Fortune, profits of the top 10 drugmakers alone came to $50 billion–and that, of course, is after the huge payouts to corporate executives.

None of the fines or settlements resulting from these cases will mar the profitability of Big Pharma, which consistently ranks as one of the top two or three most profitable industries in the United States in Fortune 500 rankings. In 2008, according to Fortune, profits of the top 10 drugmakers alone came to $50 billion–and that, of course, is after the huge payouts to corporate executives.


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on November 20, 2009.