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5 opinion(s) posted
Drug company sued for unethical conduct
By Chris Lewis,
November 01, 2005
A former pharmaceutical salesman who was fired by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has filed a $6 million whistleblower lawsuit against the London-based drug manufacturer.

In the suit, filed Friday in Davidson County Chancery Court, Scott McRae of Wilson County claims he was dismissed because he refused to lavish gifts on doctors and promote drugs for non-approved treatments.

“We contend basically he was retaliated against for bringing out some illegal and unethical activities,” said McRae’s attorney, David Cooper of Nashville.

The wrongful termination suit was filed under Tennessee’s Public Protection Act — the so-called whistleblower statute — that prohibits companies from taking retaliatory actions against employees who speak out against or refuse to take part in illegal practices.

Patty Seif, a spokeswoman in GlaxoSmithKline’s U.S. headquarters office in Philadelphia, said the company had not seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it. But she said the company does not engage in the practices described in the suit.

McRae was hired to work for GSK as a pharmaceutical sales representative in 1998, reporting to a district manager, Roger Witherspoon, who worked from his home in Nashville, the suit states.

Starting in December 2003, McRae claims Witherspoon began to require unethical or unlawful conduct designed to influence health care providers to prescribe GSK products for their patients.

The activity, McRae said, included providing “monetary gifts and bribes to certain health care providers and staff” and hosting parties and picnics for prospective clients.

He said he was also told to promote off-label use, meaning unapproved FDA use, for drugs, such as Augmentin (an anti-bacterial drug), Paxil CR (an anti-depressant), and Requip, which is used to treat restless leg syndrome.

The suit said McRae was also told to promote Baycol despite the knowledge that it was causing kidney failure deaths.

McRae claims the company also encouraged health care providers to falsify the number of prescriptions to artificially inflate the amount of business between the sales representatives and doctors.

McRae said after his refusal to carry out directives, company officials arranged for corporate attorneys to interview him in Raleigh, N.C. in December 2004. In March, he was dismissed “in retaliation for his reporting of and refusal to violate GSK’s company policy, and/or federal laws and regulations,” the suit states.

McRae is seeking back pay and benefits, as well as $1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

In response to McRae’s general claims, Seif said, “GlaxoSmthKline does not promote off-label use of our medicines, period.”

She added that the company adheres to strict internal guidelines that go above and beyond medicine marketing guidelines established by PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

In 2002, PhRMA adopted a voluntary of code that discourages pharmaceutical companies from giving inappropriate gifts to physicians and entertaining them at functions and events in exchange for recommending drugs to their patients.

In addition, the federal government has an anti-kickback law for government-funded medical care to ensure that drug companies’ marketing schemes are carried out in the best interest of the patient.

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