This Is News? Whistleblowers Paint Themselves in Altruistic Light
Successful whistleblowers in qui tam suits against pharma weren’t in it for the money. At least that’s what they say in hindsight, according to a newly published interview study of 26 such “relators” in the NEJM. (Did anybody expect them to admit otherwise?) The semi-structured study was conducted by investigators at Harvard and the University of Melbourne, one of whom (Kesselbaum) has served as an expert witness in litigation against Merck.*
The 26 interviewed relators, who received a median of $3 million ($100,000-$42 million), were reportedly motivated by their senses of justice, altruism, or integrity, according to the study. In other cases, whistleblowing was viewed as a way to avert possible future accusations of engaging in illegal activity (eg, off-label promotion). They also cited heavy personal and professional costs during the qui tam investigation and litigation.
However, one sentence in the NEJM article, in particular, suggests that whistleblowers are at least initially motivated by the prospect of a financial windfall and don’t accurately anticipate the direct and indirect costs of the qui tam process. In a concluding statement to the section, “Settlement and Life Afterward,” the authors report the relators’ advice to would-be whistleblowers:
Some offered strategic suggestions, such as hiring an experienced personal attorney, and many suggested a need to mentally prepare for a process more protracted, stressful, and conflict-ridden, and less financially rewarding, than prospective whistle-blowers might expect.
The authors also note that if the Justice Department decides to intervene in whistleblowers’ qui tam suits, almost all result in settlements or judgments against the pharma defendant. So once the DoJ picks up a case, it’s highly unlikely that the whistleblower would decide to back out, whatever the upfront headaches.
* Related to the alleged improper promotion of Vioxx.
Image of Saint Sebastian by Guido Reni from Wikipedia.
Addendum: In a highly revealing statement, one interviewee “likened his large settlement to ‘hitting the lottery,'” which, as we all know, has the sole upfront cost of forking over a buck or two for a ticket.