By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Following the record $3 billion penalty GlaxoSmithKline will pay for inappropriately marketing drugs, 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl talked exclusively to a former employee at the center of the case.
GlaxoSmithKline, with a headquarters here in Philadelphia, has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay the record penalty. A vital part of the case came from insiders, who spoke out against the company.
“When you say, ‘Hey, this isn’t right,’ you immediately become a target,” said Blair Hamrick, who was a sales rep for GlaxoSmithKline for seven years. He became a whistleblower for alleging that the company put profits ahead of patients, and he was then fired.
“It’s just unethical. It’s just–you know, you have to consider what’s best for the patient, not what’s best for your pocketbook,” said Hamrick.
Federal prosecutors used video from the Justice Department to show how GlaxoSmithKline aggressively pushed its sales staff.
“Practices like these put our public health at risk,” said Bill Corr, Deputy Secretary for Health & Human Services.
Hamrick says GSK trained him to give doctors kick backs for prescribing and promoting drugs. And he says he was trained to market the off-label use of drugs, which is illegal.
Wellbutrin, for example, is FDA approved to treat depression, but GSK promoted it for weight loss and the treatment of sexual dysfunction.
Hamrick describes how the sales force was told to pitch the drug.
“It was a quick zinger for your doc, to tell your doc, ‘Hey Doc, remember Wellbutrin is the happy, horny, skinny drug,’” said Hamrick.
Hamrick, who’s now unemployed and lives in Florida, is represented by the Blue Bell law firm Kenney & McCafferty.
Part of the $3 billion settlement involves GlaxoSmithKline’s improper drug pricing for Medicaid. Payments will go to federal and state governments, including tens of millions to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
“It’s a large dollar amount to comprehend,” said Hamrick.
As a whistleblower, Hamrick is expected to get substantial money from the settlement, but the amount is yet to be determined. And he has a separate case against GSK.
“Just having the case finally come to this point is a great thing, and hopefully, it will be resolved fully, eventually,” said Hamrick.
We reached out to GlaxoSmithKline for a comment. A spokesperson told CBS 3 that the allegations they’ve resolved are for conduct that occurred a long time ago.
A statement on Monday from the new CEO of the company expressed regret for mistakes and said marketing practices have been substantially changed.