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Big Pharma Behaving Badly (And Making Me Want to Vomit)

Posted May 08 2011 12:23am

Image by BlueRobot via Flickr

Sorry about the nauseatingly graphic nature of the title of this post, but the following info makes my head explode.

Pharmaceutical industry giant Merck Serano this week paid $44.3 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the company paid kickbacks to MS neurologists for prescribing its blockbuster MS drug, Rebif ( click here ). The scam allegedly included hundreds of doctors, and seems to have been centered on the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Clinics (CMSC), a nonprofit corporation that is supposed to help educate patients. Among its other activities, the CMSC administers the quarterly NARCOMS surveys, designed to build an ever growing database on MS and its effects on patients, which are diligently filled out by thousands of multiple sclerosis patients, including, until now, yours truly.

The lawsuit was brought by a former Merck Serano employee turned whistleblower, who was fired by the company after expressing disbelief that such underhanded and blatant misdeeds were going on with the company’s full knowledge and participation. The entire lawsuit document is available online ( click here ), and to save you the trouble, the good stuff starts on page 6.

We're not talking nickels and dimes here, but huge chunks of cash, on the order of $25,000 a pop. The CMSC allegedly funneled over $500,000 to various doctors, effectively operating as a money-laundering outfit for Merck Serano, and the fact that the company settled for $44 million indicates this disgusting scam went far deeper than what is apparent in the legal document. Unfortunately, by settling the lawsuit, Merck Serano has effectively prevented all of the gory details from coming to light, as would've been the case if the suit had been brought to trial, and thus become public record. The settlement covers fraud charges regarding Medicare and Medicaid, but what of the patients that may have been steered into injecting themselves with a drug that might not have been their best choice by scoundrels in white lab coats more intent on stuffing their pockets than following the Hippocratic oath? Where is their justice?

Coming at a time when trust between neurologists and their patients has become frayed due to the CCSVI controversy, the revelations provided by the lawsuit and subsequent settlement are especially revolting. It is simply outrageous that a drug company can get away with paying physicians kickbacks for prescribing drugs with what amounts to a slap on the wrist. The terms of the settlement, $44.3 million might sound like a sizable sum, but considering that sales of Rebif exceed $1 billion a year, the penalty is miniscule. Additionally, this is most likely only a quick peek under a very big rock, and it is just a glimpse at goings-on that would shock and dismay the legions of desperate patients who are the real victims of these disgusting, dishonest, and deceitful practices.

Before being forced out of work due to disability, I was employed by one of the huge worldwide entertainment conglomerates, which included in its portfolio some of the biggest record labels on the planet. In the music industry, what Merck Serano is guilty of is referred to as "payola". Simply put, payola is the practice of paying disc jockeys, radio station program managers, and other "hit makers" to play and promote the songs of a music company's artists. Back in the 50s, payola brought down the careers of some of America's top DJs, and to this day people go to jail when found guilty of the crime.

Now, what's more harmful to society, a music company paying radio stations to play the latest Beyoncé single (I'm just pulling an example out of thin air here, not accusing Beyoncé or her record company of anything) or a drug company paying doctors to prescribe their products to desperately ill patients? The rancid stench of greed and avarice has infected many of our most important societal institutions. After reading the above allegations, can any patient truly trust that their doctor has no ulterior motive as he scribbles the name of some drug on his prescription pad, very often in an office whose walls and shelves are filled with posters and promotional products handed out like shiny trinkets by pharmaceutical company representatives? That's swirling sound you hear is the ethics of an entire society going straight down the toilet.

The fact that this case was settled, and not brought to court, ensures that the names of most of the players will not be revealed. I'm tempted to reveal those named in the lawsuit here, but as a settlement was reached, and no verdict of guilt ever handed down, they remain simply accused, not convicted. My personal ethics therefore prevent me from slandering those who might not be guilty as charged, however unlikely that may be. That's not to say that you shouldn't click the link ( here it is again ), read the lawsuit, and find those names for yourself. In fact, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.

Every single doctor and medical professional who received any of these tainted funds, or participated in distributing them, should be named, shamed, stripped of their licenses, and thrown in jail. They're a disgrace, each a pustule on the ass of humanity, and deserve nothing more than humiliation and degradation. Unfortunately, thanks to the niceties of a system that too often protects those in positions of power at the expense of the regular folks who rely on them, the scoundrels involved will remain anonymous, free to enjoy the fruits of their despicable actions. Despite our high-minded ideals of justice for all, far too often there is justice for none.

As for those involved in this medical and legal debacle, and the many other similar cons we will likely never hear about, may their eyes fall out. Bastards.

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