Whistleblower removed from job for talking to the press
Source: British Medial Journal
New York - A whistleblower who uncovered evidence that major drug companies sought to influence government officials has been removed from his job and placed on administrative leave.
Allen Jones, an investigator at the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General (OIG), was escorted out of his workplace on 28 April and told "not to appear on OIG property" after OIG officials accused him of talking to the press. Reports of Mr Jones's findings were widely reported in the New York Times, BMJ (7 February, p 306), and elsewhere.
His findings showed that the pharmaceutical company Janssen had paid honorariums to key state officials who held influence over the drugs prescribed in state-run prisons and mental hospitals.
Mr Jones filed a suit on 7 May against his supervisors charging that the OIG's policy of barring employees from talking to the media was "unconstitutional." Mr Jones claims, in the complaint filed in the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania, that he is being harassed by his superiors and Pennsylvania governmental institutions in order to "coverup, discourage, and limit any investigations or oversight into the corrupt practices of large drug companies and corrupt public officials who have acted with them."
Mr Jones had been earlier removed as lead investigator on the case after being told by a manager that "drug companies write cheques to politicians on both sides of the aisle."
In July 2002 Mr Jones was appointed lead investigator when he uncovered evidence of payments into an off-the-books account. The account, earmarked for "educational grants" was funded in large part by Pfizer and Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Payments were made from the account to state employees who developed formulary guidelines recommending expensive new drugs over older, cheaper drugs with proved track records.
One of the recommended drugs was Janssen's antipsychotic medicine risperidone (Risperdal)—a drug that has recently been found to have potentially lethal side effects. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to Janssen on 27 April saying that Janssen's "Dear Healthcare Provider" letter about risperidone was "false or misleading" because it failed to disclose or minimised risks of the drug relating to "serious adverse events including ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar coma, and death."
Don Bailey, Mr Jones's attorney, said the case is a critical test of the right to a free press. "If they shut the employee up and they have all the documents locked up in a drawer there is no free press," he said.
Amy Wasserleben, spokeswoman for the OIG, said they would not comment on Mr Jones or the corruption allegations. When asked about the status of the corruption investigation she refused to answer. In response to a question about whether the state OIG could withhold information of public interest, she said, "The OIG is specifically exempt from right-to-know laws."
The Pennsylvania formulary is based on the Texas Medication Algorithm Project that has been exported to about 12 states and was recently commended as a model programme by President Bush's New Freedom Commission.
However, Dr Peter J Weiden, who was a member of the project's expert consensus panel, charges that the guidelines are based on "opinions, not data" and that bias due to funding sources undermines the credibility of the guidelines since "most of the guideline's authors have received support from the pharmaceutical industry."
BMJ 2004;328:1153 (15 May), doi:10.1136/bmj.328.7449.1153