Sales rep blew whistle on Pfizer drug marketing
Glenn Demott of Upper Arlington outside Columbus is hardly a household name, though in the annals of whistleblowing, perhaps he should be.
Pfizer paid $2.3 billion in 2009 to the government to settle civil and criminal allegations that it had improperly marketed drugs, including the painkiller Bextra, now withdrawn, after Demott and a handful of other employees challenged such practices.
The Food and Drug Administration had rejected approving Bextra, a treatment for osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, for acute, chronic pain. Yet Pfizer was pushing it as a general painkiller, Demott said.
He confronted his district manager at a regional meeting in Cleveland, a few days after Thanksgiving in 2003. On the drive home, Demott's head was spinning. At the time, he said, he didn't even know what a whistleblower was. But he was very nervous.
"I was scared out of my wits, actually," Demott said recently.
As he continued to raise questions about Pfizer's marketing, one-on-one with his manager and at team meetings, company officials became increasingly hostile, according to Demott's whistleblower lawsuit against Pfizer.
Pfizer's actions stifled his reports of off-label marketing, kickbacks and violation of Medicaid pricing laws, his lawsuit said.
His internal warnings rebuffed, Demott turned to the Food and Drug Administration and the FBI. Agents learned about questionable scientific studies to bolster Pfizer drugs, kickbacks to doctors through sham speaking fees and invitations to fancy resorts, and huge bonuses for sales reps who got medical practices to switch to Pfizer products.
"He is highly principled," his attorney Ann Lugbill said of Demott. "He has a very strong sense of right and wrong."
Demott was terminated by Pfizer in April 2005. Wracked by asthma attacks, his family shaken by sudden job insecurity, he said he found himself descending into gloominess, even despair.
A Pfizer subsidiary pled guilty to one criminal count related to its past promotion of Bextra. However, Pfizer denied all of the civil allegations it faced, with the exception of its promotion of the antibiotic Zyvox.
Pfizer's outside counsel in the settlement, Brien O'Connor, said Friday "Pfizer is widely recognized today for having an industry-leading compliance program across its businesses.
Demott shared in $7 million the Pfizer settlement that was allotted to whistleblowers, but he said it wasn't enough to let him retire. He was shunned by the prescription drug industry, he said, and works today for a Baltimore-based company that repairs endoscopes. His salary is one-fifth what he made at Pfizer.
Demott said he would speak up about corporate wrongdoing again. But he wouldn't complain internally. He said he would get a lawyer on his side like Lugbill, experienced in whistleblowing laws, before opening his mouth.