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.

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