Reuben Guttman: The lawyer pharma loves to hate

Reuben Guttman wants us all to be concerned about what’s in our medicine cabinets. A Washington lawyer who specializes in prosecuting pharmaceutical fraud, Guttman has gone after Pfizer, Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, and several other top drug makers — and he usually wins big, recouping billions of dollars for federal and state governments.

We invite you to read the full interview with Mr. Guttman conducted by By Karen Weintraub of StatNews.com

Spotlight on privatisation of the courts

As debate in the US continues over mandatory arbitration clauses that have led to private adjudications, a new film focuses attention on the use of private forums and sealed proceedings to resolve matters of potential public importance.

Spotlight, starring Michael Keaton, focuses on the team of investigative journalists from The Boston Globe who exposed sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests. The movie takes its name from The Globe’s ‘Spotlight Team’ of investigative reporters.

As stories about investigative journalism go, Spotlight is not All the President’s Men. It is not so much about a team of reporters finding the facts on their own as it is a story about reporters struggling to pry the facts – and story – loose from attorneys who have settled their cases in private forums or who are litigating with key documents sealed by confidentiality orders.  In Spotlight, it is the lawyers who have put the facts and story together; but it is a story that they must keep to themselves.

In a line that explains the rationale for transparency of the judicial and legislative process, Justice Brandeis notes that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Court proceedings that seemingly involve only private interests may very well have public import. For example, cases alleging sexual harassment and employment discrimination, even when brought by a single plaintiff, may involve conduct that is pervasive and thus relevant to others who might muster the courage to step forward and vindicate their own rights. Matters litigated in the sunshine may cause private entities and government oversight bodies to take action to protect against prospective injury. But for the work of the Spotlight Team, the pervasive nature of egregious conduct would not have seen the light of day.

Public litigation in the United States has brought to the surface facts that make cars safer, workplaces more tolerable for protected classes and the air we breathe less dangerous to human health. It does not even take a court ruling or jury verdict to make the point – information that comes to light during the litigation process may fuel legislative oversight and/or regulation. This is not merely a collateral benefit; it is the way the system is supposed to work. And – as Spotlight reminds us – there is a real benefit to a transparent system of justice.

Reuben Guttman is a prominent trial lawyer and founding partner at Washington, DC-based firm Guttman, Buschner & Brooks.

 

The Planned Parenthood Inquiry: Another View

by Reuben A. Guttman and Caroline M. Poplin, M.D., J.D.

Guttman practices law with Guttman, Buschner & Brooks PLLC and was counsel for whistleblowers in cases involving Abbott, Pfizer, GSK, CHS and Pharmerica, among others. Poplin, M.D., J.D., is Medical Director and Of Counsel for Guttman, Buschner & Brooks PLLC and also was involved in cases against Abbott, Pfizer, GSK, CHS and Pharmerica.

In recent months, Planned Parenthood, a health care provider for low-income women, has been under the focused scrutiny of a Congressional oversight committee. Among its many healthcare services, many of which involve preventive care, Planned Parenthood also provides abortions. The organization has been accused in political circles of selling fetal tissue. Though this may be a crime, there have been no criminal indictments let alone convictions and the evidence seems flimsy, if not fabricated, with congressional oversight itself pretextual.

Of course, if Capitol Hill politicians are sincerely interested in looking into how federal dollars are being spent for preventive medicine, care for the nation’s children, and care for the infirmed and the elderly, there are real targets to focus on; targets where billions of dollars have been spent for medical care which, in some cases, has neglected the fundamental tenet that has passed from practitioner to practitioner through the ages: “first, do no harm.”
For starters, look no farther than the pharmaceutical industry where some of the world’s largest drug companies – which feed on funds from Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration – have pled guilty to conduct that has admittedly placed lives at risk. Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson are just a few of the names that make the list.

In 2012, Abbott Labs pled guilty to violating the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act when it off-label marketed its drug Depakote to the elderly and children for purposes outside of the drug’s FDA-approved indication. In 2013, Janssen Pharmaceuticals – a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson which makes baby powder and other products – pled guilty to misbranding its billion dollar anti-psychotic drug, Risperdal. Through ongoing litigation and investigation, information about how that drug was marketed is still trickling out to the public and undoubtedly not completely known.

Where would Congress start an investigation? Look no further than big pharma’s representations to Wall Street analysts touting sales goals well exceeding the reasonable revenue streams from the FDA’s approved indication for the product. Juxtapose those goals with company documents challenging company sales reps to meet their “mark,” drill down on the documents showing company-sponsored Hawaiian getaways for employees who exceed sales expectations, and maybe find a few company-sponsored contests which challenge sales teams to spin marketing messages, and the story begins to come into focus. Congressional investigators might also look at big pharma strategies to plant marketing messages in “scientific publications.”

For the legislator whose campaign coffers are so dependent on big pharma dollars to make inquiry a political non-starter, there are the pharmacies that serve the nursing homes. These Long Term Care (LTC) pharmacies are responsible for prudently dispensing prescriptions and providing honest information about pharmaceutical products to the doctors who write them. Notwithstanding their obligation as medical providers, some of the LTC pharmacies – including Omnicare and Pharmerica – have paid millions to settle claims that rebates paid to them by big pharma were no more than bribes to promote a product.

Congressional oversight might start with a look at public filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission which hint at impropriety. Pharmerica’s August 2015 Form 10-K Report filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission discloses that “we currently receive rebates from certain manufacturers and distributors of pharmaceutical products for achieving targets of market share or purchase volumes. Rebates are designed to prefer, protect, or maintain a manufacturer’s products that are dispensed by the pharmacy under its formulary.” It’s actually too bad that most patients don’t think to read SEC filings, and undoubtedly most Wall Street analysts never realize that one day they too may be patients.

Last year, Community Health Systems, which operates more than 100 local hospitals, settled government charges that it schemed to admit patients from the emergency room whose admission was not necessary according to prudent medical practice.

Big pharma, corporate hospital chains, and several publicly traded LTC pharmacies have collectively paid billions to settle these cases. Some of these include repeat offenders. Pfizer and Phamerica, for example, merited new corporate integrity agreements—the corporate equivalent of a return to rehab.
In many cases, the price of wrongful conduct has been measured in the dollars that are spent on unnecessary products and services by federal and state health care plans and sometimes by private payors.

Unfortunately, where drug company promotional activity places a promotional spin on the science of medicine it is difficult, if not impossible, to unscramble and put back together the market for honest medical information. And how does one pinpoint with precision the injury – both short-term and perhaps even latent – attributable to drugs that are administered without medical necessity or prudent instructions for their use? It is indeed a problem. Not to belabor the point: These are also issues about life or the right to life worthy of Congressional oversight.

Reuben Guttman Honored By Emory Law

On Friday, September 25th, Emory Law awarded Reuben Guttman, A founding partner of GBB,  with its Alumni Service Award  for “significant, sustained leadership and outstanding service to the Emory Law community.”   Among his other service to Emory Law, Mr. Guttman was a visiting professors at Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City training Mexican judges and practitioners on oral advocacy and trial practice, part of a U.S. State Department program in conjunction with Emory Law’s Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution.  Source: Emory Law News Center