Via America’s Lawyer: Mike Papantonio and Trial Magazine’s Editor Farron Cousins discuss the story on how two whistleblowers who worked for a drug company called QuestCor say the company bribed doctors to prescribe their dangerously overpriced anti-seizure medication, which raised the price of the drug by 97,000 percent! Then, Mike Papantonio is joined by legal journalist Mollye Barrows to discuss the legal troubles McDonald’s is now embroiled in, citing allegations of physical violence against employees and a corporate culture that fails to protect its workers from sexual harassment.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Mike Papantonio: Two whistleblowers who worked for a drug company called Questcor say that the company bribed doctors to prescribe their dangerously overpriced anti-seizure medication after they raised the price by nearly 100000%. I have Farron Cousins from the Trial Lawyer Magazine with me now to explain what’s happening. You know, when you hear, you hear these stories from time to time and then you say, no, that really can’t be, the drug company didn’t raise that 50000%, this is 100000% that they raised the price of this drug. It’s called Acthar. That’s one, Acthar is the one we’re talking about.
Farron Cousins: Right.
Mike Papantonio: And it started off to where it goes from like what, it goes from $40 to $39,000 per prescription.
Farron Cousins: Right, for a, a small vial of this drug that is primarily used actually to prevent seizures in infants.
Mike Papantonio: Yes.
Farron Cousins: I mean we’re talking about newborn children having seizures and, and this company Questcor said, you know what’s better than $40? What if we’re making $39,000 per vial? And this story to me has every single piece that is wrong with Big Pharma wrapped into one. You’ve got the price hike of 97000%, the bribing of doctors, the off label marketing of this, and I know I’m getting ahead of myself. But this story has every ugly piece.
Mike Papantonio: Well, let’s, let’s break that down a little a little bit though. Okay. First of all, you saw, you talk about the off label. Off label means that the drug comes onto the market for a specific purpose. Okay. It may be very narrow and then the company says, well, we can’t make enough money by selling it for that narrow purpose so we’re going to make up other things we can sell it for. This particular drug, for example, was sold for a whole host of things that have not even been clinically proven to be efficacious. You understand they, they, they, they tell the doctor, doc, we think it can be used for this. The doctor then uses it for that and the doctors rarely, you know, they rarely say, well, what are the clinicals show?
Show me what the clinical data shows because the truth is the clinical data showed that this product was not even efficacious for other things like MS and rheumatoid arthritis and some other things that it was used for. This is like the, this is the worst of the worst. I mean this, this, if you were to in capsule everything that’s wrong with the, with the drug industry and everything that’s wrong with government for letting them get away with this. Understand this whistleblower brought this case seven years ago. All right? It’s sat around in the Department of Justice and the truth is the Department of Justice, unless it is a home run on, unless it’s low hanging fruit and you can basically hand a victory to the government, they won’t touch a case like this. So somebody says, well, you know, this sounds pretty bad. Maybe we can actually win this one. I mean, what’s your take on that?
Farron Cousins: Well, and the reason they want to take it is because they can get a lot of money off too. They’re, we’re, we’re talking billions of dollars they can recover from this drug company, Questcor, which is now Mallinckrodt. But the reason the DOJ is even involved in this and the reason the whistleblowers came forward is not because this company was ripping off consumers. They also ended up, I guess inadvertently ripping off the federal government in form of Medicaid and Medicare payments. The overcharging, the, the price hike. Had it just been consumers, the government wouldn’t care, the government wouldn’t get involved cause that happens every single day. But when they find out, oh, well, you unfairly rose, raised the price. You unfairly we’re using this in off label convincing doctors, bribing them according to the whistleblowers to prescribe more of it. And we saw the prescriptions increase with doctors who got your money or your golf junkets or your speaking gigs, then it’s a problem.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah, well Questcor took it to a whole new level. Questcor actually set out, they said doctors kind of understood that, that it was a medication that really wasn’t a good medication and really didn’t work. It wasn’t really something that was going to help MS or even rheumatoid. So what they did is they would then go about bribing the office worker, the person who sets the appointment. And so they actually, so, so what they did is they got ’em for kickbacks, not just the doctors but office workers. They got them for money laundering. They got them for fraud in mis, in misrepresentation of this. And most importantly they got them for stealing billions of dollars from the American government. I mean that’s, that’s what happened here. This company went from marginal kind of profit to where it was making more than a billion dollars a year with this scam, Questcor.
Farron Cousins: Absolutely, and to me that just really shows how desperate some of these pharmaceutical companies are going to get. They know they’ve got a, a not so great product, not as good as the competitors. So when you get to the point where you essentially have to bribe the receptionist to even allow your phone call to come in, when you have to bribe the person making the schedule to even let you get through that door to talk to the doctor under false pretenses, something is wrong. But, but Questcor is not, you know, they’re not the only company that does this. We see this too often.
Mike Papantonio: No, no. Yeah. I mean, every now and then you’ll have a company that, that tells the story like this because this is a 100000% mark up on a drug that basically is not even a good drug. Basically, doctors would even choose not to use it. So they end up really, really pushing all this towards taxpayers. Taxpayers end up footing this bill, but Farron it, it’s bothersome to me in so many, so many ways. This, this was brought seven years ago before the Department of Justice says, yeah, maybe we ought to do something about this. They’ve had all this information for seven years.
Farron Cousins: Right.
Mike Papantonio: And they said, well, you know, we can’t really do anything because maybe we can’t show that it’s actually a bribe. And you know, at some point a prosecutor for the Department of Justice has to man up and they have to say, yeah, we can do it. It’s a tough case, but we’re trial lawyers. Let’s do our job. Unfortunately, that’s not how this went. Understand this went through what, so, two presidencies, right?
Farron Cousins: Yeah.
Mike Papantonio: The entire time Obama’s, entire time Eric Holder was in office, he did nothing about it. Then you have, you know, attorney general Sessions. He does nothing about it. And so all it does is perpetuates crime. It just perpetuates crime. And I don’t, I don’t know how we really changed that and, and unfortunately you are right. They weren’t looking out for consumers here.
Farron Cousins: Right.
Mike Papantonio: They were looking out for the federal government.
Farron Cousins: Yeah. If the government hadn’t been part of the scam, this scam would still be going on. And seven years, to give people perspective, perspective, this happened before Obama was even reelected.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah.
Farron Cousins: That’s how long the DOJ had these documents and these files locked away under seal…
Mike Papantonio: And did nothing about it.
Farron Cousins: Until finally, I think it was a month or two ago it was unsealed.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah.
Mike Papantonio: Well, it’s happy meal time at McDonald’s. McDonald’s corporation is feeling the heat after workers file more lawsuits over charges of condoning sexual harassment, complaints to OSHA about workplace violence. On and on. I have legal journalist Mollye Barrows with the Trial Lawyer Magazine to follow the story. Mollye, this is almost as bad as Wells Fargo.
Mollye Barrows: Yes.
Mike Papantonio: Pick up a paper on any day and you’re going to see that Wells Fargo has done another bad thing. You know, whether it’s taking too much from a credit card or making up fake accounts. It seems to be in the food industry, McDonald’s is the equivalent of Wells Fargo. What’s your take?
Mollye Barrows: Yes, they’re in the cross hairs for several different organizations. So last week was an especially bad week for the happy meal maker. I can’t imagine they were too happy with last week. More than two dozen lawsuits and regulatory charges were filed against the corporation. There was also another complaint that was filed with OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, that says that they’re allowing workplace violence. So, that they’re not doing enough to protect employees, I should say, from workplace violence. So that particular complaint was brought by a store in Chicago, and of course McDonald’s is based in Chicago and they’re basically saying they had all this interesting information about when crimes were being committed against employees, the types of problems that they were facing.
Mike Papantonio: Okay, so what, tell me, what is the corporate, what are, what’s McDonald’s saying? Like, ah, sorry we got it wrong. We’ll make a better hamburger. Buy our … what are they saying? I mean, at some point, here’s my, here’s the point. At some point, once this starts stacking up, it kind of is a pile on.
Mollye Barrows: I think that’s what’s happening.
Mike Papantonio: And people start Looking, next thing will be the $15 fight. You know?
Mollye Barrows: Yeah.
Mike Papantonio: That’s what we’re going to see next, right?
Mollye Barrows: That’s this labor group that’s actually involved in both of these particular issues. Whether it’s sexual harassment in the workplace that McDonald’s is condoning, they say or it’s, you know, the fair wage issue or it’s this a workplace safety. You know, doing more to help protect employees and implementing policies. So essentially McDonald’s reaction to both of those is, well, these are franchises. We have long maintained that we’re not directly responsible for these franchises. But some of these advocates for these other issues are saying, well, you know, you guys hold them the your franchisees to the hold their feet to the fire when it comes to business practices and marketing and accounting, so why can’t you implement better training and safety policies?
Mike Papantonio: Here’s what people don’t, here’s what people don’t understand about McDonald’s. McDonald’s doesn’t really make their money on selling hamburgers. McDonald’s corporations makes their money on leasing the property to people who are the franchise holders. That’s where the real money comes in. When, when this whole thing was put together, they decided, yeah, we can make a great milkshake and we can probably compete with Burger King and all the other folks, but where they really make their money is the money that that franchise pays out to them for the, for the property, the leased property. And because of that, McDonald’s is one of the biggest property owners in America.
Mollye Barrows: That’s interesting.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah.
Mollye Barrows: Wow. They’re giant landlord of hamburgers.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah, they really are. They’re more of a giant landlord than they are, and if you, if you’ve eaten a McDonald’s hamburger lately, you kind of get that, that we hope they’re better landlords than they are, you know, chefs.
Mollye Barrows: Yeah, well that’s true. Well, and, and I guess what’s interesting to me is that you have the ACLU, the #MeToo Movement, Fight For 15, which is that labor group that’s, you know, involved in all those issues plus the low pay cause. And then Fight For 15 is also involved in the, a complaint against OSHA against McDonald’s. And this has been like part of a year long effort of just a, or confrontation, if you will, between McDonald’s and Fight For 15 alone. And then the past three years McDonald’s has had all these, you know, lawsuits and like you said, every time you turn on the news they’re either being involved with some sort of protest. People walked out last week, out of 20 different restaurants to protest.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Well here’s what, here’s what people forget. It all flows from the top. It’s like Wells Fargo. Okay. Wells Fargo is always, they’re always apologizing. Well, don’t apologize. Get new leadership. And when you get new leadership, things change from the bottom. The person that hires at the, at the very top affects everything below. And so sometimes a corporation actually reflects that personality at the top.
Mollye Barrows: Well, do you think this is like a Walmart situation? Where Walmart became like the, the poster child for, we’re not giving our employees health insurance and look at all the money they’re making and it’s almost like they’re trying to do the same thing with McDonald’s.
Mike Papantonio: I think, I think exactly the things happening. It’s almost like Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, they’re the, you know, they deserve it. Don’t get me wrong. They’re awful folks.
Mollye Barrows: They’re iconic.
Mike Papantonio: They’re iconic for bad conduct. Yeah. Mollye, thank you for joining us today.
Mollye Barrows: Thanks Pap.