NEJM: Wherefore art thou whistleblowers?

As Big Pharma has gone to the Justice Department woodshed lately--and come out with some record-setting settlements of off-label marketing claims--we've heard about the whistleblowers who often get those Justice investigations going, by suing over misbehaviors at their own companies. Specifically, about the cash they get when they share in government settlements, as the whistelblower law provides.

But a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that the money isn't what motivates most whistleblowers to begin with, and the final payment may come only after severe upheaval in a whistleblower's professional and personal life.

So if their impetus wasn't money, what was it? Integrity, for one. Fear of legal consequences for themselves, personally, if they participated in what they saw as fraudulent behavior. And worries about how off-label use of drugs could hurt patients' health. Many said they protested internally first, filing suits only after those efforts didn't work--or even backfired.

As they pursued their whistleblowing, these folks often spent so much on legal fees that their marriages and personal finances suffered. The stress may have triggered panic attacks, insomnia, shingles, psoriasis, autoimmune disease and so on. And these problems wore on for years; the whistleblower cases NEJM examined took an average of five years to resolve. These challenges prompted the researchers to advocate for whistleblower help. "[They] need more support in the process of bringing the case forward," one researcher told Reuters.

- read the Dow Jones story (sub. req.)
- check out the post at Pharmalot
- get more from HealthDay
- see the article at Reuters

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