Confessions of a Serial Whistleblower - Pharmaceutical Executive


Confessions of a Serial Whistleblower

Pharmaceutical Executive

The company put their charges into their own legal filing, which is a protected form of speech. That way, it was hard for me to claim libel. The legal filing contained information that was intended to make me look like I was trying to blackmail Pfizer and that I was a parasite on the case [meaning that the original source of the information about off-label promotion came from somewhere else]. The PR person of Pfizer even said to The New York Times that, since I was the VP, I was blowing the whistle on my own conduct.

It is Marketing 101. Number one, blame the whistleblower. Number two, make him look like a criminal and an idiot. That's how it works—it's just sad to see it played out.

How do you think the pharma industry can better handle whistleblowers?

I can't offer any advice because I don't think they are interested in dealing with whistleblowers in a forthright manner. I bring it back to the mob. It would be like saying, 'What advice would you give a mob boss for him to deal with a guy who rats on him?' It's the same thing.

Sadly, the thing is that pharma companies have all these manuals. Pfizer has the open-door policies. They have the Blue Book on ethics. I was so stupid, because I truly believed in those—and you know, I've been around for 20 years—but the manuals are not there to help the people. The manuals are there to hold up in court and say, "We have this manual. We promise to be ethical. We promise to have an open door. We promise that we won't retaliate [against whistleblowers]. That's our policy." But the policy doesn't protect employees. It is legal protection for the company.

You regularly voice your opinions about Pfizer and the drug industry on your blog. Have you created or tapped into a whistleblower underground?

I have had a lot of people contact me who have seen similar things [as I saw with Genotropin]. I also just published an entry on my blog from somebody else within Pfizer who had witnessed document destruction. And oh boy, you should see the activity that I have had on my blog from [Pfizer's law firm] Covington and Burling since then.

So how common are illegal marketing practices in the industry?

If we just look at the public record, virtually every one of the major drug companies has been convicted and paid primo civil fines to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. And we know that when it comes to violations of the law, that's only the tip of the iceberg. Not everybody's getting caught. The Justice Department is completely overwhelmed, and they only intervene in 10 to 20 percent of the cases—they just don't have the manpower. And this is the flipside: The chance of getting caught is pretty slim.

So I would say it is very, very common. And, in defense of the drug industry, I believe that most of the people I've worked with are good, hardworking, honest people trying to do the right thing. Companies can't know what every single employee is doing all the time. But when they do get caught and pay these fines, it's most often not because they had one renegade employee. It takes a lot to convict a pharmaceutical company.

Has increased scrutiny by OIG changed this environment?

It's a complete joke. Let's look at real life. If a company violates a law, the Office of the Inspector General of the Health and Human Services can't put the company in jail.

What they do is make a company sign a Corporate Integrity Agreement. So a company does something really bad, and they have to sign an agreement that says they will never do this bad thing again. Pfizer has signed two of those agreements and obviously, Pfizer blames the subsidiaries that they bought.


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