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Horrified By Johnson & Johnson’s Tactics, A Sales Rep Wears A Wire – Huffington Post

By November 2003, investigator Allen Jones was suing his bosses at the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General. He claimed that they had frozen him out after he began investigating the algorithm campaign. But he wasn’t finished.

Jones had first consulted lawyers in Washington who referred him to a scrappy plaintiffs’ law firm in Texas. That firm realized the potential qui tam value of cases claiming that the entire scheme— TMAP in Texas, PMAP in Pennsylvania—was a plot to extract millions in Medicaid “false claims” from state and federal treasuries. However, the lawyers decided they were not equipped to handle a claim this big against a company like J&J, let alone on a contingent basis, under which they would have to front all the costs until they won (if they won) a verdict or settlement.

By the end of 2003, Jones ended up with Thomas Melsheimer, a well-known Dallas trial lawyer at the firm Fish & Richardson. Melsheimer had won big verdicts for defendants, as well as plaintiffs, in cases ranging from antitrust to insider trading to bank fraud.

Melsheimer set his sights on recruiting a key partner: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Texas has its own version of a qui tam false claims law, and Melsheimer hoped he could entice the attorney general’s office to join the fray. Across the country, whether state attorneys general are Republicans, like Abbott, or Democrats, they generally see headline cases in which they crack down on big corporations as helpful if the want to move up politically. (Abbott is now governor of Texas.)

Melsheimer and lawyers from his office immediately began preparing their case, using the documents that Jones had been gathering. Occasionally, they would tease Abbott’s office with the best material. At the same time, Jones began, as he puts it, “seeding” the upcoming litigation with national publicity. On February 1, 2004, about two months before Vicki Starr was wired in San Francisco, The New York Times published a long article headlined “Making Drugs, Shaping the Rules.”

It had now been almost 10 years to the day since Johnson & Johnson had launched Risperdal. This was the first major news story that raised questions about how the company had turned the drug into its top seller.

“Since the mid-1990’s, a group of drug companies, led by Johnson & Johnson,” the Times reported, “has campaigned to convince state officials that a new generation of drugs—with names like Risperdal, Zyprexa and Seroquel—is superior to older and much cheaper antipsychotics like Haldol. The campaign has led a dozen states to adopt guidelines for treating schizophrenia that make it hard for doctors to prescribe anything but the new drugs. That, in turn, has helped transform the new medicines into blockbusters. … Texas, for example, says it spends about $3,000 a year, on average, for each patient on the new drugs, versus the $250 it spent on older medications.”

The Times story then introduced Jones, who was pictured in the article sifting through documents.

Seven weeks after the Times story appeared, Melsheimer filed Jones’ suit.

“Through TMAP, the drug industry methodically compromised the decision-making of elected and appointed public officials to gain access to captive populations of mentally ill individuals in prisons and state mental hospitals,” Melsheimer’s complaint charged.

Significantly, Melsheimer’s focus was on Risperdal being an overpriced and no better substitute for drugs like Haldol, not on the company’s efforts to promote Risperdal to patient populations and for behavior disorders that were outside what was allowed under the label.

Again, because this was a qui tam suit, Johnson & Johnson had no way of knowing about it yet. Yet everyone involved in Risperdal had to have read the New York Times article, which had reported that federal healthcare officials were investigating Jones’ charges. In fact, a Janssen spokesman was quoted in the story. He said that his company “did not participate in nor influence the content or the development of the guidelines.”

Soon, the accusations and denials would involve more than marketing plans and conduct by state officials. The story was about to include the patients, too.

Horrified By Johnson & Johnson’s Tactics, A Sales Rep Wears A Wire – Huffington Post

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