Government Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement
Why Whistleblowing is Thankfully Becoming a Risk Worth Taking
The “seventh amended complaint” filed in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, where Gregory Thorpe and Blair Hamrick sued Smith Kline Beecham and GlaxoSmithKline, shows allegations that are vast and disturbing. They include: From 1997 to the present and continuing, GSK’s marketing plan, devised at a senior executive level, has been to “Exploit the Bolus” of government-funded healthcare programs such as Medicaid and Tricare, with the direct and intended effect of causing the submission of false claims to such programs as identified herein. GSK has illegally and fraudulently promoted and marketed the sale of its drugs for off label, non-medically accepted uses… As part of this scheme, GSK overtly and aggressively targeted physicians identified by GSK’s prescription tracking methods to have the largest volumes of patients enrolled in government-funded healthcare programs such as Medicaid and Tricare.
Why whistleblowing is thankfully becoming a risk worth taking
A jackpot of $250m (£161m) is the sort of figure that creates long queues at lottery machines on Saturday mornings. But Greg Thorpe does not sound like someone who has discovered he is in line to share up to a quarter of a billion dollars with three others.
The 61 year-old did not buy a winning ticket. Instead, he’s one of four former employees of GlaxoSmithKline whose evidence earlier this month helped the US Department of Justice (DoJ) impose a record $3bn fine on Britain’s biggest drugmaker, for mis-marketing medicines to patients in America. The father of four has lived the past 10 years as a whistleblower.
“To tell you the truth, it’s still emotionally draining,” Thorpe told The Daily Telegraph. “I’m trying to look ahead.” It is understandable that such a long legal battle should still frame life for one of the first sales representatives that Glaxo hired when it pushed into the US in 1978. On July 3, Glaxo admitted publicly to practices that Thorpe, who worked for the company in the mid-western city of Denver for more than 20 years, first complained of to his managers in 2001.
Psychiatrists were allegedly whisked away by Glaxo representatives for luxury weekends in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, where golf, deep sea diving and snorkelling were on offer to entice them to prescribe the company’s drugs to patients for whom they had not been officially approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The $3bn fine the DoJ hit Glaxo with was announced just a week after Barclays agreed to pay $450m to settle allegations it had sought to manipulate Libor, one of the world’s key interest rates. Despite the bank’s much smaller penalty, it is no surprise that Barclays’ wrongdoing created the far bigger furore. The bank’s senior management have gone. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly in Britain, appeared to have played down concerns about the potential fixing of Libor when it was first brought to their attention more than four years ago.
According to emails released by the New York Federal Reserve, it was conversations with traders that made officials aware that banks may have been understating their borrowing costs when Libor was set. The narrative with Glaxo is far simpler. Thorpe, along with fellow whistleblower Blair Hamrick, who also worked as a salesman for Glaxo, took their concerns about the mis-marketing of the drugs to managers but were ignored. Both were eventually forced out of the company.
In 2003, the pair filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act, a statute stretching back to the Civil War that allows individuals to take steps to recover losses that have been incurred on behalf of the US government. The government, one of America’s biggest buyers of medicine, later joined the suit, bringing with it the investigatory muscle of the DoJ. Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers can receive between 15pc and 25pc of the total of any settlement.
Glaxo’s chief executive Sir Andrew Witty this week apologised again for the practices brought to light by the investigation, adding: “We’re determined this is never going to happen again.”
Although high-profile, the Glaxo settlement is only the latest in an increasing number of prosecutions in the US started on whistleblowers’ evidence. The number of prosecutions reached 417 last year compared with 231 in 2008. Stephen Kohn, director of the National Whistleblowers Centre, says they are increasing because the law provides a meaningful incentive for an employee who suspects wrongdoing to take the degree of risk required to point it out.
“A traditional legal remedy for a whistleblower has been backpay and reinstatement at work,” says Kohn. “It doesn’t work because they are never welcomed back and their careers are stunted. The law provides an incentive for employees to take a risk and offers the whistleblower a significant chance to get compensation.”
Last summer, the Securities and Exchange Commission, America’s top financial regulator, added fresh incentives by allowing potential whistleblowers to bypass their employers’ own internal compliance systems if they do not trust them.
It caused a barrage of complaints that it will leave companies’ expensive internal compliance departments redundant and encourages lawyers to pursue tenuous cases in pursuit of hefty fees. They are risks, but the priority should be to encourage whistleblowing.
And the combination of risk and reward appears to have the potential to help uncover wrongdoing in the battered banking industry.
What is clearer, though, is that life as a whistleblower is hard. Thorpe says he was rejected for 20 jobs since he left Glaxo and has run up debts of $700,000. Though he is poised for a handsome pay-off, he did not know the outcome when his case started almost a decade ago.
“If you want to be a whistleblower, then you have to take a lot,” he explains. “I’m just saying it was tough.”
GSK Whistleblower: The Happy Horny Skinny Drug
By Apollo· , Tuesday,July17th,2012
GlaxoSmithKline employee and whistleblower Blair Hamrick has helped make medical history. Together with his colleague Gregory Thorpe, Blair blew the whistle on criminal practices taking place inside GlaxoSmithKline which have now led to the largest criminal admission and financial settlement in the history of western medicine. GSK is paying a $3 billion fine while pleading guilty to felony crimes.
Blair recently joined Mike Adams on the Health Ranger Report for a video interview. In this astonishing interview, Blair describes his firsthand knowledge of the “bribery” of physicians, the push for off-label marketing of drugs for unapproved health conditions, the illegal marketing of drugs to children, how 80 percent of physicians were willing to be “on the take,” and other astonishing details from behind the scenes of the criminally-operated medical mafia known as Big Pharma.
Below, we’ve published selected transcribed statements from Blair Hamrick as revealed in the above videos.
The worst decision ever made by any drug company
The $3 billion settlement was achieved with the help of the law firm known as Kenney & McCafferty, specializing in whistleblower cases.
“When our clients were forced out of their marketing positions, GlaxoSmithKline (‘GSK’) had proof of illegal off-label prescription drug marketing. Our clients properly reported those marketing misdeeds to management in 2001. An ensuing GSK internal investigation verified their allegations, but the company took no action, choosing hefty profits over compliance and patient safety,” said whistleblower attorney Tavy Deming of Kenney & McCafferty.
“GSK could have saved hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion or more dollars of the $3 billion it paid today by following through on the combined Human Resources / Corporate Compliance investigation they launched. Instead they ignored evidence of improper marketing and physician kickbacks. When you look at the detail and accuracy of Greg Thorpe’s written complaints distributed to the highest levels of Glaxo it’s almost surreal that the company took no corrective action. Now more than a decade later, GSK is essentially admitting that Thorpe had been right in 2001,” Kenney said. “It’s been a very, very, very long 10 years for whistleblowers Thorpe and Blair Hamrick.”
Court documents reveal even more details.
The “seventh amended complaint” filed in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, where Gregory Thorpe and Blair Hamrick sued Smith Kline Beecham and GlaxoSmithKline, shows allegations that are vast and disturbing. They include
From 1997 to the present and continuing, GSK’s marketing plan, devised at a senior executive level, has been to “Exploit the Bolus” of government-funded healthcare programs such as Medicaid and Tricare, with the direct and intended effect of causing the submission of false claims to such programs as identified herein.
GSK has illegally and fraudulently promoted and marketed the sale of its drugs for off label, non-medically accepted uses… As part of this scheme, GSK overtly and aggressively targeted physicians identified by GSK’s prescription tracking methods to have the largest volumes of patients enrolled in government-funded healthcare programs such as Medicaid and Tricare.
GSK has paid illegal remuneration (i.e. kickbacks) to physicians and other health care providers with the purpose and intent of inducing those physicians and healthcare providers to prescribe GSK drugs in return in violation of the federal Anti-Kickback law and the analogous anti-kickback laws of the Plaintiff States.
Top level GSK managers and executives, including but not limited to GSK’s Chief Executive Officer J.P. Garnier, current President of Pharmaceutical Operations David Stout, Vice Chairman of Pharmaceuticals (and former President of Pharmaceutical Operations) Robert A. Ingram, Senior Vice President Stan Hull, Regional Director Mike Bennett, and Vice President and Head of Corporate Compliance Arjun Rajaratnam, have been aware of GSK’s illegal marketing schemes and have played an active role in supporting and promoting these schemes.
Astonishing quotes from whistleblower Blair Hamrick.
The following are all quotes from Blair Hamrick, as found in this Health Ranger Report interview with Mike Adams.
How it all began:
It started out, we were discussing where the company was going and how the company had taken a turn asking us to do unethical and illegal things. Selling drugs off label. Selling drugs to children that the drug says specifically in its package insert this drug is not indicated for children under 18, but they were asking us specifically to sell it to children.
Being trained to sell drugs off label:
When we would have regional meetings, we would train on how to sell off label. How to find niche products for instance, like Wellbutrin, it was indicated for depression, but then apparently they were not satisfied with the amount of money they were making, so they started pushing it for weight loss, for pediatrics, for sexual dysfunction. You’ve probably heard the quote, this catch phrase went around to doctors you could only see for a brief second. Hey doc, remember Wellbutrin is the happy horny skinny drug. These are catch phrases that drills the name of the drug in the back of the doctor’s mind, and they get duped into writing prescriptions for a product that may not be appropriate.
That was for when you only had a minute to talk to the doctor. Remember Wellbutrin it’s the happy horny skinny drug. Now, if you actually got the opportunity to speak to the physician for a sit-down appointment, you may then start talking about things like intimacy and depression, and how with the competitor drugs like Paxil, patients have problems with their libido, and you should use Wellbutrin because it increases the libido, so depending on what your primary drug was to promote, we were trained on uncovering what doctor’s objections were and then to come back, and spin it so that the doctor would start writing your drug.
About off-label marketing:
When a company actively markets a drug that is not indicated for a specific disease state, that is a violation of the law. …And it’s commonplace.
About spinning side effects:
With those studies, you’re trained to focus on how well it works, but don’t focus on the side effects so much. You don’t really want to bring that one up. If they ask the questions, then you can address it, but let’s spin it in a very positive manner.
(We would say) well, doctor, the insomnia (side effect) is transient. So it’s only a problem for the first couple of days. Once your patients acclimate to the drug, the insomnia will fade away. So it’s a spin machine.
For instance the drug Advair for asthma. They came out with the S.M.A.R.T. data, showed an increase incidence of death in African American people. So the study was stopped, they had black box warnings in the package insert, we were trained to tell the doctors well, doctor, you know most people of lower socioeconomic conditions are not compliant with their medications, so with Advair you don’t have to worry about your patients not taking their inhaled corticosteroid because Advair is a combination of an inhaled corticosteroid and a long-acting beta-agonist. So it’s always a spin, so they were basically, according to our complaint, taking a very negative dangerous outcome of a drug [study] and trying to spin it as positive.
About corporate responsibility for products that harm consumers:
When you look at a drug like Wellbutrin, and it has a 0.1% incidence of seizure, that’s one in a thousand, but if you’re that one person that has a seizure, it’s 100 percent (for you). Where (we) drew the line is realizing that if a child has a seizure, who’s responsible? Is it the doctor? Is it me? Is it the company? Where does the buck stop? And unfortunately in the corporate world, there are so many veils of protection that… they’re a corporate defendant which is nothing more than a table full of attorneys, and nobody pays the price.
It’s offensive. In my opinion, they have no regard whatsoever for precious human life. …But I have suffered nothing compared to a parent whose child has committed suicide on Paxil. Imagine how horrifying that is. It’s so repulsive. You’re just talking about a bad company run by bad people, in my opinion.
About holding drug company CEOs criminally responsible for their acts:
When will the public be outraged and say enough is enough? Because this kind of behavior will continue until somebody goes to prison. They’re hurting our children. It’s offensive, it’s immoral, it’s unethical, and for a company to have the slogan of letting people do more, and live longer and do better, and then hide behind that slogan [while] you’re telling your sales reps to sell off-label to children… how evil does it get? It just doesn’t get any more evil than that.
Illegal kickbacks and the bribery of doctors
I was promoted when I was with Glaxo, after about two years with Glaxo, to a specialty position, I was called a therapeutic area specialist. So one of my jobs was to recruit local speakers, to become trained on the drugs to go and speak to other physicians. You’re taking them down the primrose path of payoffs.
First, they have to start writing the drug, and if they’re not writing the drug enough, you have to get on them about that, then when they do a speaking program at $2,000 for 30 minutes — anywhere from $500 to $2500 for a half-hour talk — then if the message they are sending is not exactly the way you want it to go, then you coach the doctor about here’s our marketing message, this is the point we want to get out to other physicians… so yes, I saw it firsthand.
I even had doctors who, when I walked into their office and they found out I was the therapeutic area specialist, they were like hey, can you set me up with the speaking program? Because it’s extra money. There are even doctors out there, they make so much money on the speaking tours, they start hiring nurse practitioners or other doctors to see their patients, and they may only go into the office two or three times a month. Because they’re out speaking. It’s so lucrative. …(they can make) $6,000 in one day to do three half-hour presentations. …And most of the slide shows come from the company marketing departments.
At the time I left Glaxo, they had over 40,000 speakers on their speakers’ bureau.
According to court documents, GlaxoSmithKline had actually developed a network of “speakers” (i.e. primarily doctors receiving kickbacks for writing prescriptions) totaling 49,000.