By Terry Date
Seventeen state representatives wrote New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte in May, asking her to seek financial compensation from pharmaceutical companies that have improperly marketed or not fully disclosed side effects of antipsychotic drugs.
The petitioners didn’t know it at the time, but the attorney general’s office had been investigating one of those companies, Bristol-Myers Squibb, since 2004.
Just last week, the state’s Medicaid fraud unit announced a $1.2 million settlement with the company and a former subsidiary over several alleged practices, including its marketing of Abilify to treat children and dementia patients, for whom it was not approved.
The $1.2 million is New Hampshire’s share of a $515 million national civil settlement, which involved 43 states and the federal government.
The settlement also includes allegations that Bristol-Myers Squibb overpriced various drugs and made illegal payments to doctors to promote the sale of some drugs.
The lead petitioner, Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said last week that he is happy with Ayotte’s progress, but he wants continued action.
Each year, New Hampshire and the federal government split the cost of Medicaid, which helps pay for health care for the needy, aged and disabled, as well as low-income families with children.
What first caught Baldasaro’s attention was a huge increase in state spending on newer antipsychotic drugs for children — almost $4 million last year, up from less than $300,000 in 2000.
“What got me going is how much money we are spending on Medicaid dollars to drug our kids, and on prescriptions that are designed for adults and not tested for use by children,” he said.
When Baldasaro and other officials saw other states taking drug manufacturers to court to recover money wrongfully collected from them, the legislators wanted the Granite State to follow suit.
In particular, the petition asked Ayotte to sue Bristol-Myers Squibb, manufacturer of Abilify, and Eli Lilly, manufacturer of Zyprexa. Both drugs are prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Lilly has paid at least $1.2 billion in settlements to Zyprexa users nationwide, over claims they developed diabetes or other diseases from using the drug.
Baldasaro also wants the attorney general to consider joining the U.S. Department of Justice to criminally prosecute drug company executives, where appropriate, again as a deterrent to protect children and others from being placed on powerful medications.
Jeff Cahill, director of the state’s Medicaid fraud unit, won’t talk about any pending investigation. He said it is his office’s policy to neither confirm nor deny any active investigation.
Regarding Ayotte’s response to the petition, Baldasaro said he got a letter from her last month saying that New Hampshire has taken on cases against eight drug companies.
“I can assure you that we continue to be very active in investigating improper conduct and in seeking to recover any funds wrongfully collected from the state,” Ayotte wrote.
Ultimately, Baldasaro and the other petitioners want a deterrent against improper marketing of powerful drugs.
Petition signer Rep. Gene Charron, R-Chester, said full disclosure is needed to protect consumers, and too often those safeguards are lacking.
Consumers are more likely to see an automobile recall than a drug recall, he said.
Charron and Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, said too much is at stake — people’s lives, children’s lives.
“We want to make sure that with the increased use of medications by school-age children, that the kids are safe,” Garcia said.
Baldasaro said, as a society, people should think more about prescription habits.
“In general, I think we are too quick to drug our kids,” he said.