Drug firms paid ‘independent’ experts
Practice led to AG-whistleblower lawsuit
KXAN – Austin Texas
by Nanci Wilson
26 Jul 2011
Doctors working in state hospitals and community mental health centers began switching patients to the atypical antipsychotics because they were deemed the best treatment by an expert panel convened by the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. But a detailed examination of public records documents on file in a whistleblower lawsuit that has been joined by the Texas Attorney General’s Office allege that the experts hired to evaluate the drugs and make recommendations for their usage were also accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from the companies developing and marketing the medications.
It started in the middle 1990s when MHMR contracted with University of Texas and some of its professors to evaluate the medications and develop a set of treatment guidelines. The program was named the Texas Medication Algorithm Project, or TMAP. The result was step-by-step guidelines for treating major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
TMAP was supposed to be based on the latest science, evaluated by an independent group of experts in the field. But a 2004 lawsuit filed by whistleblower Allen Jones and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Division against Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, suggests that the project was actually a vehicle for boosting sales of expensive new drugs that government funded studies found were not more effective, but cost far more than conventional medications. According to records compiled from company documents, Janssen was making substantial payments over several years to the decision makers, many of whom were University of Texas professors.
While the professors were under contract with the state of Texas to provide their expert opinions on medications, records show many were also being paid by the companies whose drugs were being evaluated. The suit alleges that Janssen improperly influenced the development of TMAP and compromised the objectivity of the decision makers by paying consulting fees, funding research and providing extravagant meals and lavish travel.Such relationships were not always disclosed in TMAP manuals distributed to state hospitals and community mental health centers. The depth of the financial relationship between the drug companies and the Texas Department of Mental Health weren’t always disclosed, either…