The Bitter Pill

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Ablechild – Unsung Hero in Battle Against Psychopharmaceutical Industry

Evelyn Pringle

The founders of Ablechild, Patricia Weathers and Sheila Matthews, have earned the title of “Unsung Heroes,” as both pioneers and warriors for over a decade, in the battle to protect children from the Psychopharmaceutical Industry.

Ablechild (Parents for A Label and Drug-Free Education), is a national non-profit founded in 2001, by these two mothers who each had personal experiences with being coerced by the public school system to label and drug their children for ADHD. Patty and Sheila went from being victims to become national advocates for the fundamental rights of all parents and children in the US.

Now with thousands of members, Ablechild acts as an independent advocate on behalf of parents whose children have been subjected to mental health screening and psychiatric labeling and drugging, and as a proponent for children in foster care who are improperly treated with psychotropic drugs, many times off-label, without informed consent.

Long Battle Against Coerced Drugging

Roughly eight years ago, on September 26, 2002, then Chairman the US House Government Reform Committee, Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN), held a hearing on the “Overmedication of Hyperactive Children,” prompted by a series in the New York Post.

“It’s estimated that 4 to 6 million children in the United States take Ritalin every single day,” Burton said in his opening statement. He pointed out that Ritalin was a Schedule II stimulant under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, that research showed it was a more potent transport inhibitor than cocaine, and use in the US had increased over a 500% since 1990. The Schedule II category also includes drugs such as cocaine, morphine, and Oxycontin.

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Filed under: 'ADHD', 2010, Ablechild, CHADD, drugging children, front groups, MEDICAID, Ritalin, TeenScreen

Lilly Faces Mounting Legal Battles Over Zyprexa – Part I

Evelyn Pringle November 7, 2007

Since August 2006, as part of an on-going, multistate investigative effort by approximately 30 states, Eli Lilly has received civil investigative demands or subpoenas seeking a broad range of documents relating to the company’s marketing and promotion of the antipsychotic drug
Zyprexa, and more states are expected to join the effort.

In addition, a total of ten states are now suing Lilly for Medicaid fraud to recover the cost of Zyprexa purchases for persons covered by the program, along with the past and future costs of treating Zyprexa-related illnesses. Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia have filed cases thus far.

Zyprexa belongs to a new generation of antipsychotic drugs known as “atypicals” which arrived on the US market in 1994, beginning with Risperdal, marketed by Johnson and Johnson subsidiary Janssen. Other drugs in this class include Seroquel, sold by AstraZeneca; Geodon, by Pfizer; Abilify, from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Clozaril, marketed by Novartis.

For the first four years that Zyprexa was on the market in the US, it was only approved to treat adults with schizophrenia, and it was not until 2000 that the FDA approved the drug for adults in the manic phase of bipolar disorder.

However, in a matter of a few short years, Lilly turned Zyprexa into its best-selling product, despite the drug’s extremely limited approved uses, by influencing doctors to prescribe the drug off-label.

In addition to prescribing a drug for unapproved uses, off-label can mean treating an approved condition for a longer duration of time, or prescribing a drug in combination with other drugs, or at a different dosage, or to a different patient population such children or the elderly, other than those specified on the FDA-approved label.

According to Lilly’s SEC filings, the Office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has also advised Lilly that it has commenced a civil investigation related to the company’s marketing and promotion of Zyprexa, and a “number of State Medicaid Fraud Control Units are coordinating with the EDPA in its investigation of any Medicaid-related claims relating to Lilly’s marketing and promotion of Zyprexa.”

Lilly has also received subpoenas from the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Illinois, and the Florida Office of the Attorney General, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, asking for documents relating to sales, marketing and promotion of Zyprexa.

Lilly’s SEC filings also report that the company has received requests for information related to the company’s marketing and promotion of Zyprexa from the offices of Representative Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

Collectively, the Medicaid fraud lawsuits allege that Lilly illegally influenced doctors to prescribe Zyprexa off-label to patients, including children, for conditions such as behavior and mood disorders, eating disorders, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, PMS, Alzheimer’s, Tourette’s syndrome, dementia and other unapproved indications.

The lawsuits also allege that Lilly concealed the adverse effects associated with Zyprexa, including drastic weight gain, high blood sugar levels, diabetes and pancreatitis.

Other serious adverse effects known to be associated with Zyprexa include Parkinson-like symptoms, akathisia, tardive dyskinesia, dystonia, hypotension, constipation, tachycardia, seizures, liver abnormalities, white blood cell disorders and death.

The Mississippi lawsuit alleges that about 10% of Zyprexa patients have developed diabetes, some of whom are children, even though Zyprexa “has never been approved for, nor found to be effective, in the treatment of children.”

An estimated 1,500 Utah Medicaid patients who took Zyprexa have developed diabetes, according to the lawsuit filed on May 29, 2007, by state attorney general David Stallard.

Utah is seeking damages including $5,000-$10,000 for each prescription that was “not medically necessary.”

Lilly recently attempted to get the Utah case dismissed, in part by arguing that the allegations of off-label promotion and failure to warn were preempted by FDA regulations under a new rule put in place by the Bush Administration, largely viewed as a gift to the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2006, the FDA published a preamble to new prescription drug labeling rules in which it asserted that its approval of the labeling would prevent the filing of lawsuits in state courts premised on a theory that a drug company should have provided additional warnings on a drug’s label.

However, the Utah court ruled against Lilly on this issue and stated, in part: “In fields traditionally occupied by the states, such as health and safety regulation, there is a strong presumption against federal preemption,” and Lilly “has not overcome this strong presumption.”

Pennsylvania alleges that the state spent millions of dollars “for non-medically accepted indications and non-medically necessary uses of Zyprexa,” as well as “significant sums of money for the care and treatment” of patients injured by the drug.

Montana’s complaint charges that, “Lilly management participated, encouraged and authorized the unlawful payment of illegal kickbacks to physicians in order to continue generating sales of Zyprexa.”

The Montana lawsuit is asking for reimbursement on behalf of all citizens who purchased Zyprexa, and not only patients covered by public health care programs, because under the law in that state, the attorney general can request treble damages and attorneys’ fees on behalf of all consumers.

There are also several RICO class actions filed against Lilly on behalf of union insurance plans, pension funds, and other private health insurers, which accuse Lilly of violating racketeering laws and allege the drug maker engaged in illegal marketing schemes to promote the sale of Zyprexa for off-label uses and seek to recover the cost of purchasing the drug, as well as treble damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

On June 28, 2007, Lilly lost a motion for a summary judgment dismissal of the RICO claims, based on the preemption argument, when District Court Judge Jack Weinstein for the Eastern District of New York ruled against the company, In re Zyprexa Products Liability Litigation, 2007 WL 1851161.

In a written ruling rejecting Lilly’s argument that state law failure-to-warn claims are preempted, Judge Weinstein wrote that “the regulation of public health is an area traditionally occupied by the states, supporting a presumption against preemption.”

“Under the present organization of the pharmaceutical industry, the official federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the plaintiffs’ bar,” he stated, “the courts are arguably in the strongest position to effectively enforce appropriate standards protecting the public from fraudulent merchandising of drugs.”

The Judge also noted that Congress had not stated an intent to preempt these claims. “The FDA cannot be allowed to usher in such a sweeping change in substantive law through the back door,” he wrote.

The Medicaid fraud lawsuits allege that many children have been turned into customers for the off-label prescribing of Zyprexa. A recent October 7, 2007, report from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration entitled, “The Use of Antipsychotic Medications with Children,” found that pediatric use of antipsychotics increased in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s, largely due to the arrival of the atypicals on the market.

The report noted that one study documented a 75% increase with commercially insured children aged 0 to 17 from 1997 to 2001, and another study of the managed care population from 1996 to 2001 found a 127% increase among children aged 0 to 18.

The study also reported that antipsychotic use in the Medicaid populations was three to four times higher than commercial populations in the late 1990′s, and in one program in the Midwest, the rate of prescriptions grew 304% between 1996 and 2001.

The authors said the analysis showed that the drugs are being used to treat a broad spectrum of disorders, and some of the disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and major depression, “clearly do not call for antipsychotic treatment.”

In the 0 to 5 age group, the study found that more than 53% of the drugs were prescribed for ADHD, even though antipsychotic use with children under 6 “should be considered only in very rare circumstances.”

A report in the May 10, 2007, New York Times revealed some of the known adverse events that occurred in children who were prescribed antipychotics in 2006 alone. The FDA received reports of 29 children dying, and at least 165 other serious side effects in children, where an antipsychotic was listed as the primary suspect, according to the Times.

The FDA acknowledges that its reporting system only picks up between one and ten percent of the adverse events that take place, which means the number of deaths and injuries above must be multiplied many times over to obtain an accurate estimation of how many children have been harmed by the drugs.

Filed under: 2007, antipsychotics, Eli Lilly, Fraud, MEDICAID, Preemption, Zyprexa

Lilly Faces Mounting Legal Battles Over Zyprexa – Part II

Evelyn Pringle November 10, 2007

Several Zyprexa-related class actions have been filed against Eli Lilly on behalf of the company’s shareholders charging Lilly, and certain of its officers and directors, with violations of the Securities Exchange Act.

On April 2, 2007, the Schiffrin Barroway Topaz & Kessler law firm issued a press release to announce a class action filed on behalf of all purchasers of Lilly stock between March 28, 2002, and December 22, 2006, alleging that Lilly disseminated false and misleading statements regarding Zyprexa.

More specifically, it alleges that Lilly was aware of a “clear link” between Zyprexa and diabetes, failed to warn the public and engaged in an illicit scheme to offset a drop in sales that was certain to occur when reports of side effects emerged, by creating a marketing plan which included the evaluation and pursuit of sales for Zyprexa based on “off-label” uses, in direct violation of Lilly’s own code of conduct.

The complaint further alleges that concealing the side effects and engaging in an illegal marketing campaign subjected Lilly to substantial regulatory fines, penalties and other legal action, compromising the company’s overall financial condition and prospects.

According to the complaint, between 2002 and 2004, sales of Zyprexa grew from $3.69 billion to $4.42 billion, and between July 18, 2002, and May 7, 2004, Lilly’s stock value increased from $43.75 per share to $76.95.

But when public warnings were issued about the safety of Zyprexa, the lawsuit alleges, sales slowed and share prices dropped from $76.95 to $50.34 between May 7, 2004, and October 25, 2004, representing a loss of market capitalization of over $30 billion.

Another shareholder’s complaint claims that Lilly had knowledge of a link between Zyprexa and extreme weight gain and diabetes and when sued by private individuals who developed these adverse effects, “the Company adamantly refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing.”

Still another lawsuit alleges that Zyprexa does cause such side effects, and to a greater extent than its competitors, and the “revelations sharply curtailed the sales growth of Zyprexa and resulted in thousands of product liability lawsuits against Lilly and hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.”

A number of Zyprexa cases have been filed against Lilly in other countries as well.
In private litigation, almost all of the federal lawsuits are part of a Multi-District Litigation proceeding before Judge Jack Weinstein in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Since June 2005, Lilly has entered into out-of-court settlements with approximately 30,200 claimants in the US for about $1.2 billion, and there were still about 350 lawsuits covering about 540 claims pending at the time of the company’s August 7, 2007, SEC filing.

However, on June 29, 2007, Rob Waters and Margaret Cronin Fisk reported in Bloomberg News that Lilly “may attract more lawsuits alleging it failed to warn users that a psychiatric drug was linked to diabetes after the pharmaceutical company received a letter from US regulators.”

They report that Lilly was told in March that the FDA would delay the approval of Symbyax, which contains both Zyprexa and Prozac, for hard-to-treat depression because the agency wanted more information about the risk of diabetes in the prescribing label. Symbyax was already approved for bipolar disorder.

In a letter obtained by Bloomberg, the FDA stated: “We are concerned that the proposed labeling is deficient with regard to information about weight gain and high levels of sugar and fat in the blood of patients who took the drug.”

“We do not feel that current labeling for either Symbyax or Zyprexa provides sufficient information on these risks,” the agency wrote.

According to Bloomberg, the FDA said Lilly’s proposed prescribing information for Symbyax failed to disclose that almost half of the patients who had high or borderline blood sugar levels when they started taking the drug ended up with levels high enough to be considered diabetic and that was over nine times the number of patients on placebos.

“We were troubled that this important information was not included in your proposed label,” the agency said.

“The FDA’s request,” Bloomberg points out, “may bolster plaintiffs’ suits against the Indianapolis company over side effects tied to Zyprexa,” attorneys told the reporters.

“When the FDA says something damning about the warnings of a drug, it’s admissible as evidence on the reasonableness of the manufacturer’s decisions,” said David Logan, dean of the Roger Williams University School of Law, in an interview with Bloomberg.

“It would likely carry some weight with juries,” he stated.

Experts say, in light of all the studies which have shown that the older cheaper antipsychotics work as well or better than atypicals for schizophrenia patients, it’s difficult to understand why Zyprexa is still being prescribed for those patients.

An October 2006 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, funded by the British government and lead by Dr Peter Jones, a psychiatrist at the University of Cambridge, compared treatment outcomes for schizophrenia patients with the older antipsychotics with treatment results from the new atypicals and found the quality of life of patients was slightly better with the older drugs.

The study was conducted on behalf of Britain’s National Health Service to determine whether the increased cost of the new atypicals was justified and involved 227 patients who were assigned to two groups and evaluated by researchers who did not know which medication the patients were taking for over a year.

In the October 3, 2006, Washington Post, Dr Jones said a conservative interpretation of the data suggests that there is no difference, “so the notion you would pay 10 times as much would be difficult to justify.”

“Why were we so convinced?” he asked, referring to the widespread belief that the new drugs were worth the cost. “I think pharmaceutical companies did a great job in selling their products,” he said.

Experts are quick to point out that earlier studies in the US had produced the same results. In 2003, the Department of Veterans Affairs found there was no difference in compliance, symptoms or overall quality of life in patients treated with the older drug Haldol compared with Zyprexa, and a September 2005 government-funded study in the New England Journal reported that patients taking the older drug perphenazine did as well as patients on the new drugs and patients on atypicals experienced more side effects.

“The story of these newer antipsychotic drugs is a story that reveals an institutional gap,” according to Dr Robert Rosenheck, who was involved in both US studies, in the Post on October 3, 2006.

“It should not have needed 10 years to get three government studies,” he noted.

The fact is, Lilly promoted Zyprexa as being more effective than the older drugs with less side effects right from the start. On November 14, 1996, the FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications sent a letter to Lilly addressing the company’s misrepresentations of the risks and benefits of Zyprexa in an October 2, 1996, promotional teleconference conducted by Dr Gary Tollefson, Vice President of Lilly Research Laboratories.

During the conference, the FDA said, Dr Tollefson made the false claim that Zyprexa did not cause the Parkinsons-like side effects observed in patients who received Haldol, and even though the FDA labeling for Zyprexa included weight gain as an adverse effect, during the conference Dr Tollefson claimed that it usually occurred in patients who were underweight to begin with, making it sound like weight gain was actually a benefit of the drug, according to the FDA letter.

In addition to the many serious health problems found to be associated with Zyprexa in recent years, experts say the suicide rate amongst Zyprexa patients is also high. According to an analysis of the FDA’s adverse event reports by Dr Gregory Warren, an independent researcher and statistician, since Zyprexa came on the market in 1996, there have been 532 suicide reports on the drug filed by health care professionals.

UK psychiatrist and professor Dr David Healy, one of the world’s leading authorities on pharmacology, says there has been a ten- to twenty-fold increase in the rate of suicide among patients diagnosed with schizophrenia since antipsychotics were first introduced.

All that said, apparently no amount of litigation will slow the off-label prescribing of Zyprexa. In 2006, sales were $4.3 billion, and for the second quarter and first half of 2007, US sales of Zyprexa increased 4% and 5%, respectively, and international sales increased 14% during both periods, according to the SEC filings.

Critics say going after the drug makers is not enough, that it’s time to sue the doctors who prescribe drugs off-label. Alaska human rights attorney Jim Gottstein says psychiatrists are seldom held legally responsible for their failure to adequately inform patients about the true efficacy and harms of the drugs they prescribe.

“This has likely lulled them into a false sense of security,” he notes, “because there are various factors at work which could loosen a tidal wave of legal cases against doctors who do not adequately inform their patients about the benefits and harms, including the efficacy of other approaches and of nontreatment.”

Filed under: 2007, antipsychotics, Eli Lilly, Fraud, MEDICAID, Zyprexa

Psychotropic Drug Makers Bankroll Prescribing Shrinks Part I

Evelyn Pringle August 30, 2007

On August 21, 2007, the Associated Press reported that drug companies spend a lot of money on the members of Minnesota advisory panels who help select the drugs which are to be used by patients covered by Medicaid.

The news agency’s review of financial disclosure records in Minnesota found that a doctor and a pharmacist on the 8-member panel simultaneously received large checks from drug companies for speaking about their products.

According to the report, Minneapolis psychiatrist John Simon, appointed to the panel in 2004, earned $354,700 from drug makers that included Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca, from 2004 to 2006, in honoraria, speaker and consulting fees, as well as other payments ranging from $500 to $93,012.

The records also showed that Robert Straka, a University of Minnesota pharmacy professor, was paid $78,000 by drug companies while he served on the panel from 2000 to 2006. He told the Associated Press that he was paid for “educational talks” and that he routinely discloses his ties with drug companies and did so as a panel member, both verbally and in writing.

But according to information obtained with a public records request by the AP, there is no indication that Mr Straka made any such disclosures in meeting minutes dating back to February 2001, and other panel members and staff interviewed by the AP could not remember Mr Straka making any such disclosures either.

The Associated Press reported that roughly a third of the drugs on Minnesota’s preferred drug list were sold by companies which paid Mr Simon or Mr Straka, but the news agency could not track any link between the payments and their votes because the minutes from the advisory panel meetings did not record how the 8 members voted.

The top-selling drugs prescribed to Minnesota Medicaid patients for the years 2000 through 2006 included the atypical antipsychotic drugs Zyprexa, marketed by Eli Lilly; Seroquel, sold by AstraZeneca; Risperdal, marketed by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen; Geodon, sold by Pfizer, and Abilify, from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

These drugs were originally FDA-approved for the limited use of treating adults with schizophrenia or the manic phase of bipolar disorder. However, the massive over-prescribing of this enormously expensive class of drugs for unapproved uses has caused many states to remove them from the Medicaid preferred drugs lists and requires doctors to obtain prior authorization before prescribing them to Medicaid patients.

In fact, roughly 10 states are now suing several atypical makers for Medicaid fraud to recoup the cost of purchasing the antipsychotics prescribed off-label to Medicaid patients and also to recover the money paid for medical care of the persons injured by the drugs.

The lawsuits allege that the drug makers illegally influenced doctors to prescribe the drugs off-label to patients of all ages, for conditions such as behavior and mood disorders, eating disorders, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, PMS, dementia, and many other unapproved indications, and concealed the adverse effects associated with the drugs.

The atypical makers are also facing tens of thousands of lawsuits filed by patients, private insurance carriers and company shareholders for similar allegations.

According to Lilly’s August 6, 2007, SEC filing, since August 2006, Lilly has received civil investigative demands or subpoenas from a number of states. “Most of these requests are now part of a multistate investigative effort being coordinated by an executive committee of attorneys general,” the filing states.

“We are aware that approximately 30 states,” Lilly wrote, “are participating in this joint effort, and it is possible that additional states will join the investigation.”

The filing notes that the attorneys general are seeking a broad range of Zyprexa documents, “including documents relating to sales, marketing and promotional practices, and remuneration of health care providers.”

Presumably, that would also include the “remuneration” of Minnesota shrinks like Dr Simon. According to the August 27, 2007, Pioneer Press, since 2002, Dr Simon has received more than $570,000 from six drug makers, with most of the money coming from Eli Lilly, “whose antipsychotic drug Zyprexa is the most costly each year for Minnesota’s fee-for-service health program for the poor and disabled,” the article states.

In fact, Lilly’s disclosure records for 2004 show payments to Dr Simon totaling a whopping $91,854.95 in that one year, and he also received another couple grand from Seroquel maker AstraZeneca.

Dr Simon told the Pioneer Press that companies pay him to speak about their drugs at conferences and clinics or about the conditions that are treated with the drugs. “Most of the psychiatrists who are really good,” he said, “have ties to industry.”

Whether Dr Simon is a “really good” psychiatrist is certainly open to debate. In 1997, the state medical board made him complete a clinical training program and issued a report which said that Dr Simon, “frequently makes abrupt and drastic changes in type and dosage of medication which seem erratic, not well considered and poorly integrated with nonmedication strategies.”

The board also noted that Dr Simon prescribed addictive drugs to addicts and failed to stop giving medicines to patients when they were suffering severe drug side effects. He said in an interview with the Times that the board’s action was a learning experience and that drug makers continued to hire him to speak because he was respected by his peers.

For years, Dr Simon reportedly shared an office with another “really good” psychiatrist by the name of Dr Faruk Abuzzahab. On June 3, 2007, Gardiner Harris and Janet Roberts published a story in the New York Times with the headline: “After Sanctions, Doctors Get Drug Company Pay,” and stated:

A decade ago, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice accused Dr. Faruk Abuzzahab of a “reckless, if not willful, disregard” for the welfare of 46 patients, 5 of whom died in his care or shortly afterward. The board suspended his license for seven months and restricted it for two years after that.

Over the past 20 years, this “really good” psychiatrist has repeatedly prescribed narcotics and other controlled substances to addicts and prescribed narcotics to pregnant women, one of whom delivered a baby prematurely that died, the board found.

The Times reports that separately, in 1979 and 1984, the FDA concluded that Dr Abuzzahab had violated the protocols of every study that the agency audited and that he reported inaccurate data to drug makers.

The FDA said he routinely oversaw 4 to 8 trials at the same time, moved patients from one study to another, gave experimental drugs to patients at their first consultation and once hospitalized a patient for the sole purpose of enrolling him in a study.

As recently as June 2006, the medical board criticized Dr Abuzzahab once again for writing prescriptions for narcotics and this time to patients he knew were using false names, according to the Times.

All that said, Dr Abuzzahab told the Times that he has helped study many popular psychiatric drugs, including Lilly’s Zyprexa and Prozac, Janssen’s Risperdal, AstraZeneca’s Seroquel, Glaxo’s Paxil and Pfizer’s Zoloft.

A review of the Minnesota disclosure records for 2004 show that the drug makers apparently thought it was beneficial to keep paying big bucks to Dr Abuzzahab. Glaxo paid him $1,000, Pfizer gave him $750, and Wyeth forked over $18,084, in that year alone.

In 2003, psychiatrist Dr Ronald Hardrict pleaded guilty to Medicaid fraud. But a little charge like fraud apparently did not effect this Minnesota psychiatrist’s earning power either. The very next year, disclosure records for 2004 show Risperdal maker Janssen paid him $10,000; Seroquel maker AstraZeneca gave $1,250; Abbott Labs paid him over $7500; Glaxo paid $1,500, and Wyeth forked over $8,846.

In reviewing the Minnesota disclosure records for 2004, the name Dr Dean Knudson kept popping up. A September 2004 Newsletter from the Ada Canyon Medical Education Consortium listed Dr Knudson as an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

He must be a “really good” psychiatrist, too, because in 2004 alone, Lilly paid him close to $37,000; he earned nearly $2,750 from Pfizer; Seroquel maker AstraZeneca paid him $6,700; Janssen forked over $3750; Wyeth paid him $11,632, and he received $2,082 from Abbott. Lilly’s 2003 forms also show another $8,740 paid to Dr Knudson.

The newsletter showed that Dr Knudson was paid to give educational presentations on dementia. On October 18, 2005, the Associated Press reported a study that showed atypicals used to treat elderly patients with dementia raised their risk of death.

For the study, the researchers pooled the results of 15 studies on the atypicals Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel and Abilify and among more than 5,000 dementia patients, those taking any of the four drugs faced a 54% increased risk of dying within 12 weeks of starting the drugs, compared to patients taking placebos.

Another name that jumps out in the 2004 disclosure records is Dr David Adson. According to the August 20, 2007, Pioneer Press, Dr Adson, of the University of Minnesota, also has a state advisory role as the clinical leader of a program funded by Lilly and provided free of charge to Minnesota, which notifies doctors when their prescriptions for psychiatric drugs are out of line with clinical standards.

Although the program is funded by Lilly, it is supposedly run by an independent company called Comprehensive NeuroScience, Inc. All totaled, 20 states have contracts with CNS to identify doctors “who are prescribing psychiatric drugs outside of recommended guidelines for safety and effectiveness,” according to the Press.

Critics say the program is actually a scam set up with state policy makers to make sure the expensive psychiatric drugs remain on the Medicaid covered drug lists instead of being placed on the lists that require prior authorization.

Ben Hansen, a member of the Michigan Department of Community Health Recipient Rights Advisory Committee, has been investigating the atypical makers’ involvement in the Medicaid programs in Michigan and other states and says that none of the states with CNS contracts require prior authorization for the atypical drugs.

Mr Hansen published some of the results of his investigation in the Spring 2007 Newsletter of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology. By using the FOIA, Mr Hansen says he has obtained nearly a thousand pages of documents which show that Medicaid is being “milked like a huge cash cow.”

According to Allen Jones, a former Medicaid fraud investigator, the long list of corporate sponsors for CNS includes: AstraZeneca, Janssen, Bristol-Myers, Pfizer, Lilly and Glaxo.

Back in 2002, Mr Jones found that Janssen was using CNS to funnel payments to state officials who controlled the Medicaid preferred drug lists in Pennsylvania to ensure that Risperdal would be on the list.

For his part, the leader of the Minnesota CNS program, Dr Adson, was paid $5,200 by AstraZeneca, Glaxo shows $331,947 going to him, and Pfizer gave him $1,000, in 2004 alone.

Also, in 2006, Dr Adson received $83,325 from AstraZeneca and roughly $6,100 from Bristol-Myers, according to a compilation of disclosure forms by the Pioneer Press and the watchdog group Public Citizen.

Filed under: 'ADHD', 2007, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, drugging children, Fraud, KOL, MEDICAID, SSRIs, TMAP

Psychotropic Drug Makers Bankroll Prescribing Shrinks Part II

Evelyn Pringle September 2, 2007

Influence peddling in the field of psychiatry is out of control. An analysis of Minnesota disclosure records by the Pioneer Press and the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen shows that, between 2002 and 2006, 187 Minnesota doctors received payments from drug companies worth a grand total of $7.38 million.

No other field of medicine even comes close to that amount. The next highest specialty was neurology, with 99 doctors receiving $2.89 million, according to the analysis.

In psychiatry, drug makers underwrite decision makers at every level of care, according to a May 10, 2007, report by Gardiner Harris in the New York Times. “They pay doctors who prescribe and recommend drugs, teach about the underlying diseases, perform studies and write guidelines that other doctors often feel bound to follow,” Mr Harris states.

He determined that, between 2000 and 2005, payments to Minnesota psychiatrists increased more than six-fold. The Times also analyzed Minnesota Medicaid records, and the report provides details on how the financial relationships between doctors and drug makers have played a major role in the growing use of atypical antipsychotics with children.

The drugs include Zyprexa, marketed by Eli Lilly; Seroquel, by AstraZeneca; Risperdal, marketed by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen; Geodon, sold by Pfizer, and Abilify, from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The drugs are the most powerful psychiatric drugs on the market and were FDA-approved only to treat adults with schizophrenia or adults in the manic phase of bipolar disorder.

Over the past three years, every atypical maker has come under fire for influencing doctors to prescribe the drugs off-label to children for uses never approved by the FDA, and they are all currently involved in litigation related to the illegal promotion and sales of the drugs.

A study at Columbia University on the use of antipsychotics with children found that only a small percentage of the kids on the drugs had psychotic disorders and that, most of the time, the drugs were prescribed to treat mood disorders, depression, anxiety and ADHD.

Mr Harris reports that the Minnesota psychiatrists who received the most money from the drug’s makers tended to prescribe them to kids the most often. On average, psychiatrists who received at least $5,000 between 2000 to 2005 appeared to have written 3 times as many prescriptions for kids as psychiatrists who received less or no money, the Times notes.

The rising Medicaid costs for atypicals also coincides with the rising payments to doctors. For instance, Minnesota Medicaid spent roughly $521,000 in 2000 on antipsychotics for children; but in 2005, the cost was more than $7 million, or a 14-fold increase.

In June 2007, Vermont officials revealed that disclosure records in that state showed payments to psychiatrists had more than doubled in one year, from an average of $20,835 in 2005, to an average $45,692 in 2005. There, too, antipsychotics were among the highest Medicaid drug expense.

The drug makers have shrinks in their pockets all over the country. However, only 3 states, Minnesota, Vermont and Maine, have laws that require companies to disclose their payments.

The media’s recent reporting that members of a Minnesota advisory panel who decide which drugs will be covered by the state’s Medicaid program are on the take, adds a new chapter to an old book. This same scam has been used in states all over the country since the late 1990′s, and if not for two relentless fraud investigators from Pennsylvania, the fact that the formulary committees are bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical industry might have remained a secret for all time.

The fact that drug makers were bribing state policy makers and members of advisory panels with the ultimate goal of capturing the lucrative Medicaid customer base to increase the sale of psychiatric drugs was first discovered several years ago by Allen Jones, while he was a federal fraud investigator in the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General Bureau of Special Investigations, and Dr Stefan Kruszewski, a pediatric psychiatrist by trade, who was hired by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to review the quality of care provided to persons covered by state programs.

According to Mr Jones, “the pharmaceutical industry has systematically infiltrated the mental health service delivery system of this nation.”

“The situation uncovered in Minnesota,” he says, “will be exposed in every state that demonstrates the political will to force transparency through full disclosure of industry payments to decision makers.”

“Thinly veiled bribery of public officials by the pharmaceutical industry is a pervasive and deeply rooted problem,” he warns.

During his investigation in Pennsylvania, Mr Jones found a drug money trail to key policy officials who controlled the Medicaid preferred drug list in that state, which eventually led him to Texas and an elaborate scheme that involved influential psychiatrists, including many who served as professors at Texas universities, and state policy officials who developed the preferred drug list known as the “Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP)”.

Mr Jones calls the Texas panel the “most transparent example” of industry influence, because all of the project directors had financial ties to the drug makers. It was put into effect, he says, by buying off doctors who were considered “opinion leaders” in the psychiatric field, along with state policy makers in positions of authority with control over the preferred drug lists.

For instance, Dr John Rush, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, served as the TMAP Project Co-Director with Dr Steven Shon, the Medical Director of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Mr Jones determined that Dr Rush had received grants, research funding and served as a consultant and speaker for atypical makers Bristol-Myers, Janssen, Eli Lilly and Pfizer.

The director for the schizophrenia module was Dr Alexander Miller, of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, who also served as a consultant, advisory board member and speaker for AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers, Lilly, Janssen and Pfizer.

The director of the bipolar disorder module was Dr Patricia Suppes, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who also received grants and research funding and served as a consultant for AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers, Janssen, Lilly and Pfizer.

Other University of Texas professors who participated in the development of TMAP included psychiatrist Dr Graham Emslie, who has received grants and research support and served as a consultant and member of speakers’ bureaus for atypical makers Bristol-Myers, Lilly and Pfizer.

Another professor, Dr Karen Dineen Wagner, was a member of the speakers’ bureaus for Janssen, Lilly and Pfizer, and a member of a scientific advisory board for Lilly, Janssen and Pfizer and received research funding from the same 3 atypical makers and Bristol-Myers.

Once the formulary was in place in Texas, the drug makers paid Dr Shon to travel around the country to convince policy makers in other states to use the TMAP model for their Medicaid approved list. Pennsylvania adopted the program and called it PennMap.

Mr Jones found that Janssen paid for Dr Shon to fly to Pennsylvania two times, and a document he obtained shows that the grant covering Dr Shon’s travel expenses was “to expand atypical usage.”

The New York Times reported that some payments were made through patient advocacy groups instead of directly to state officials. In 2002, Janssen gave the Olympia, WA, chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill a grant of $15,000 to fly Dr Shon and other Texas officials to speak to state legislators about the formulary, the Times found.

While reviewing the medical care provided to patients under state care in the summer of 2002, Dr Kruszewski immediately recognized that a mass drugging-for-profit scheme involving Medicaid patients, especially children, was taking place in Pennsylvania, and that several patients had died.

In one case, where the child fortunately survived, Dr Kruszewski found that the girl had been placed on 11 psychiatric drugs at the same time, including 5 antipsychotics, without ever being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. She exhibited impulsive behaviors and was mentally disabled, but there was nothing in the records to justify the use of all these drugs, he says.

According Dr Kruszewski, the atypicals are associated with an increased the risk of obesity which can lead to diabetes type II, hypertension, heart attacks and stroke. The weight of the girl who was on 11 drugs had ballooned from 106 pounds to 194, Dr Kruszewski found.

In reviewing patient records, he found a state-wide pattern where patients who were not mentally ill were placed on cocktails of 3 or more expensive psychiatric drugs at the same time and kept on the cocktails indefinitely and if patients experienced side effects from the original medications, more drugs were added to the mix.

The sheer greed evidenced by the mass drugging of patients on Medicaid all over the US, similar to that discovered by Dr Kruszewski in Pennsylvania, has forced state Medicaid programs to either put a stop to the drug maker’s encouragement of the rampant prescribing of atypicals or go broke.

For instance, Texas Medicaid was charged nearly $15 million for antipsychotics for foster children in 2004, according to the December 2006 Special Report, “Foster Children – Texas Health Care Claims Study.” In fact, Texas spent more money on antipsychotics for foster kids than any other class of drugs, and the report said, Zyprexa, Seroquel and Risperdal typically cost an average of $229 per prescription.

The report also pointed out that the drugs were not approved for children, and listed the health risks associated with the atypicals and stated, in part:

“These very powerful and expensive medications were prescribed despite a lack of studies demonstrating their safety and efficacy in children. There are questions regarding the long-term safety of these medications; documented serious side-effects include menstrual irregularities, gynecomastia, galactorrhea, possible pituitary tumors, hyperglycemia, type 2 diabetes and liver function abnormalities.”

In a May 10, 2006 Press Release, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said she was “particularly concerned” about the use and side effects of the atypical antipsychotic drugs.

“A clear pattern of overmedication and potential misdiagnosis of foster children is evident,” she said and the “potential for Medicaid fraud and the possibility of long-term health problems in these children is alarming.”

A USA TODAY study of FDA data from 2000 to 2004 found 45 pediatric deaths in which atypicals were the primary suspect, with at least six related to diabetes and other causes ranged from heart and pulmonary problems to Zyprexa, choking and liver failure.

A 15-year-old boy died of an overdose, an 8-year-old boy died of cardiac arrest, a 13-year-old girl experienced diabetic ketoacidosis, a deficiency of insulin, and the youngest death was a 4-year-old boy whose symptoms suggested diabetes complications, who was also taking 10 other drugs.

A July 29, 2007, report by Robert Farley in the St Petersburg Times revealed that in the last 7 years, the cost to Florida tax payers for atypicals prescribed to children jumped nearly 500%, from $4.7 million to $27.5 million, and on average in 2006, it cost the state nearly $1,800 for each child on atypicals.

Mr Farley reported that last year, more than 18,000 kids on Medicaid were prescribed antipsychotics including 1,100 under the age of 6 and some as young as 3, even though guidelines from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration say children younger than 6 should generally not be given psychotropic drugs and they should “only be considered under the most extraordinary of circumstances.”

According to Mr Jones, these new “miracle” drugs have proven to be no better than generics, and, “it is a statistical certainty that many lives have been lost and many others irreparably damaged.”

In September 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that although Zyprexa was the most expensive and most prescribed antipsychotic, it was the only atypical that worked slightly better than the 40-year-old generic drug, perphenazine, but the NEJM also noted that Zyprexa had more side effects. The cost for a 3 month supply of Zyprexa in September, 2005 at drugstore.com, was $1,500, while a 3 month supply of perphenazine was only $135.

And the atypical drugging for profit scheme is not limited to the Medicaid population. An analysis revealed in March 2006 by investment firm CIBC World Markets showed that in the previous 12 months, the top 20 drugs in managed care spending included Zyprexa with $2.6 billion, Seroquel at $2.5 billion, and Risperdal was $2.2 billion.

The corrupt psychiatrists in Minnesota and other states might want to think about what is happening to “professionals” who were involved in similar behavior in Pennsylvania and Texas.

In Pennsylvania, the state Ethics Commission determined that Pfizer operated its own “Advisory Boards,” comprised exclusively of formulary committee chairmen from various states who received honorariums and all-expense-paid trips from Pfizer at the same time they were evaluating Pfizer drugs for use in state mental health systems.

The Commission determined that Steven Fiorello, Director of the Pharmacy Services in the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in Pennsylvania, and Chairman of the Formulary Committee, had used his office to obtain private pecuniary benefits for his participation in Pfizer’s advisory board meetings in New York when he received honoraria for his participation in the meetings, as well as for his presentations at conferences in Orlando, Florida and Dublin, Ireland.

Mr Jones found that Mr Fiorello traveled to Pfizer’s world headquarters in Manhattan 3 times to participate in advisory board meetings, with all expenses paid for by Pfizer, including lodging at Manhattan’s Millennium Hotel and he was paid an honorarium of $1,000 for attending each meeting.

The Commission also found a number of additional violations, including Mr Fiorello’s receipt of honoraria from other companies for whom he made presentations in connection with his public employment, and ordered Mr Fiorello to make restitution of $27,268.50 and referred the case to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Public Corruption Unit.

On November 21, 2006, Mr Fiorello was charged with two counts of conflicts of interest, one count of accepting honoraria and one count of failing to disclose income on annual Statements of Financial Interests. In a press release, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General stated: “As part of his responsibilities, Fiorello served on a committee that decided which drugs would be used for mental health treatment in all state hospitals – decisions which guided more than $9 million in annual drug purchases by the Commonwealth.”

He also noted that, “while Fiorello was helping to guide the purchase of various drugs by the Department of Public Welfare, he was also paid more than $12,000 by drug companies for appearances, speeches and presentations, as well as service on a drug company advisory board.”

Down in Texas, Dr Shon was fired last fall after the state’s attorney general found that Janssen had improperly influenced him to list Risperdal on the state formulary. An October 9, 2006, letter to Dr Shon from Dr Charles Bell, acting commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, obtained by the Austin American-Statesman states: “It is my determination that your services are no longer required by the Department.”

“I am, therefore, terminating you as the Medical Director for Behavioral Health effective immediately,” Dr Bell wrote.

In addition, Texas is now closely monitoring the prescribing of psychiatric drugs to Medicaid patients, and several psychiatrists have been ordered to reimburse the state for the cost of the drugs they prescribed to foster children.

Texas and Pennsylvania have also recently filed Medicaid fraud lawsuits against the makers of Zyprexa, Risperdal and Seroquel, seeking to recoup the cost of the drugs prescribed to Medicaid patients, as well as the medical care for persons injured by the drugs.

Filed under: 'ADHD', 2007, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, drugging children, Fraud, KOL, MEDICAID, SSRIs, TMAP

Amgen and J&J Funnel Tax Dollars Through Kidney and Cancer Patients

Evelyn Pringle April 17, 2007

Medicare has provided coverage for all patients with End Stage Renal Disease since 1972, and according to the House Ways and Means Committee, the government pays for 93% of services provided to dialysis patients, at a cost of about $2 billion a year.

In 2005, the drugs darbepoetin and epoetin, commonly used by patients who must undergo dialysis, accounted for almost 20% of the $13 billion spent on the Medicare Part B drug plan, and total sales for these drugs worldwide topped $9 billion.

Amgen manufactures and markets darbepoetin as Aranesp, and epoetin is sold under the names Procrit and Epogen. But Procrit is distributed by Ortho Biotech Products, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. There are no generic versions of these medications.

The drugs are among the top sellers for both companies. Amgen’s Epogen and Aranesp combined sales were $6.6 billion in 2006, nearly half of the company’s total revenues. Johnson and Johnson’s revenues were $3.2 billion in 2006, making it the company’s second-biggest-selling drug, according to Forbes.com on March 21, 2007.

The drugs are man-made versions of erythropoietin, a hormone normally produced in the kidneys, and belong to a class of drugs known as Erythropoiesis Stimulating Agents. ESA’s are used to treat anemia in raising hemoglobin levels by increasing the number of red blood cells in the body. Anemia’s severity is monitored by a patient’s hematocrit, the proportion of red blood cells in whole blood, which should stay between 33% and 36%.

According to the FDA, ESAs are approved to treat anemia in patients with chronic kidney failure, patients with cancer whose anemia is caused by chemotherapy, patients scheduled for major surgery to reduce potential blood transfusions, and for the treatment of anemia due to zidovudine therapy in HIV patients.

But Aranesp, Epogen, and Procrit are being administered “off label” for uses and in doses not approved by the FDA. For instance, an Amgen vice president recently estimated that about 10% to 12% of Aranesp sales are for the unapproved use of treating “anemia of cancer” in patients who are not undergoing chemotherapy.

A recent company study conducted to support FDA approval for using the drug to treat “anemia of cancer” in patients with cancer in remission who were not undergoing chemotherapy, revealed that Aranesp actually increased the risk of death in these patients.

The February 2, 2007, “Cancer Letter ,” a newsletter for cancer professionals, warns, “If the findings of the recently reported study hold up, more than one in 10 Americans getting Aranesp without chemotherapy has no chance of benefiting from the agent and could be harmed or killed by it, experts say.”

The report estimated that up to 12% of the use of ESAs in the US was for this condition.

After reviewing the results of this study and several others, on March 9, 2007, the FDA announced that black box warnings would be added to the labels for all ESAs and recommended using the lowest possible dose to raise the hemoglobin concentration to the lowest level.

The FDA-approved labeling for the drugs says patients should have a hemoglobin level of 10-12 grams per deciliter of blood, and patients are considered to need treatment if their levels fall below 10 grams.

During a press briefing, Dr Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA’s Office of Oncology Drug Products at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said the black box warning was being added based on the results of several recently reported clinical trials.

Dr Karen Weiss, deputy director of the Office of Oncology Drug Products, said the FDA became concerned after receiving the results from several trials evaluating the aggressive use of ESAs to raise hemoglobin levels higher than listed on their approved labels.

In the March 10, 2007 Wall Street Journal, Dr Weiss was quoted as saying, the “bulk of the data that has raised concerns” came when patients were given higher doses, whether they were experiencing anemia from kidney disease or cancer treatment.

The evidence shows that “this type of strategy is not beneficial and, in fact, has some evidence of harm,” she said.

On March 9, 2007, the FDA also issued a public health advisory based on the results of a number of studies and warned doctors treating patients with kidney disease or cancer not to push hemoglobin levels over 12 grams per deciliter of blood.

The FDA noted a higher chance of death and an increased rate of tumor growth in cancer patients with advanced head and neck cancer receiving radiation therapy and in patients with metastatic breast cancer receiving chemotherapy, when ESAs were given to maintain levels of more than 12.
There was also a higher rate of death reported, but no fewer blood transfusions, when ESAs were given to patients with cancer and anemia who were not receiving chemotherapy.

A higher chance of death and an increased number of blood clots, strokes, heart failure and heart attacks were found in patients with chronic kidney failure when ESAs were given to raise hemoglobin levels of more than 12.
The Advisory warned that a higher risk of blood clots was also reported in patients who were scheduled for major surgery and received ESAs.

The FDA pointed out that ESAs are not approved for treatment of the symptoms of anemia, such as fatigue in patients with cancer, surgical patients and patients with HIV.

The drug makers have been using direct-to-consumer advertising to increase sales with cancer patients by claiming the drugs could restore energy and reduce fatigue in patients undergoing chemotherapy. But the FDA says there has never been any evidence to support claims that ESAs could increase energy or ease fatigue in patients undergoing cancer treatment.

In recent months, Congress has been investigating Medicare reimbursement policies that guarantee dialysis clinics a 6% profit for administering ESAs, since it became apparent that patients are being given higher doses than needed. Critics say any deal that allows for cost plus payments comes with a built-in incentive to provide unnecessary services.

On October 24, 2006, the Boston Globe reported that dialysis clinics are also increasing profits by administering ESAs intravenously instead of by injection, and about 95% of the patients receive the drugs intravenously.

Clinics could use 30% less, the Globe says, because when ESAs are injected they stay in the system longer and require a lower dose. A 2004 analysis found patients injected with the drugs were given 21% less, for a potential total savings of about $375 million.

The two clinic chains that dominate the dialysis industry are DaVita, with over 1,200 clinics, and Fresenius Medical Care, with about 1,500. According to the Globe, the clinics claim the intravenous method is more convenient because patients are already hooked up to IVs for dialysis.

Critics think differently. “The industry is incentivized to use intravenous because they make a profit margin on every unit they administer,” said Dr Peter Crooks, who oversees dialysis for 3,000 patients for Kaiser Permanente where most patients receive injections.

In an April 11, 2007 report, Bernstein Research estimates that dose volume in renal patients could fall as much as 25% if doctors abide by the new black box warning and insurers refuse to pay for the drugs in patients with hemoglobin levels over 12.

On November 17, 2006, the British journal Lancet reported that about half of all dialysis patients have hemoglobin levels above what the FDA considers safe, and about 20% of patients experience dangerously high levels, creating a risk for heart attack and stroke.

Filed under: 2007, Amgen, anemia drugs, Aranesp, cancer, dialysis, Epogen, ESAs, Johnson and Johnson, kidney transplant, MEDICAID, MEDICARE, Procrit, stroke

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