By spending billions on consumer advertising, the pharmaceutical industry has carved out a huge space in the drug market for products like Celebrex, Viagra and Vioxx. But when it comes to selling drugs that treat schizophrenia, drug companies have a much smaller market. This market is limited to state officials who supervise the treatment of people in their state with serious mental illness. Those patients who are in mental hospitals and at mental health clinics are the ones who make states one of the biggest buyers of antipsychotic drugs.
Naturally this situation causes the big drug companies to change its strategy. Since the mid 1990’s, a collection of pharmaceutical giants, led by Johnson & Johnson, has been trying to woo state officials that a new generation of antipsychotics is better to older and much cheaper ones like Haldol.
This push by the drug industry high rollers has led twelve states to adopt guidelines for treating schizophrenia that make it difficult for doctors to give anything but the new drugs to their patients regardless of their financial situation. This has, pretty much allowed the new drugs to weed out the older, cheaper alternatives. Afterwards, more drug giants chipped in to help guarantee the initial effort by Texas state officials to develop the new drug plan. Then Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and maybe a few others funded “meetings” around the US with officials from different states. The purpose of these meetings was to convince other states to follow Texas’s example and create a semi-monopoly for their new, better drugs. This is according to documents and interviews that are part of a lawsuit and an investigation in Pennsylvania.
Later In May 2001, as Pennsylvania was making their own decision on the matter about the new guidelines, Janssen Pharmaceutica, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, spent $4,000 to fly two state mental health officials to New Orleans, where they were wined and dined at an elegant Creole restaurant in the French Quarter. The visit also included a trip to the aquarium and a meeting with company executives and Texas officials. Janssen Pharmaceutica also paid two Pennsylvania officials $2,000 each for giving speeches at company-sponsored educational seminars for doctors and nurses working in prisons. The payments were discovered a little more than a year ago by Allen L. Jones, an investigator in the inspector general’s office in Pennsylvania.
With the help of his congressman, Jones brought the information to the attention of federal health officials after, he says, his superiors took him off the investigation with the reason being political influence of the drug industry. The Department of Health and Human Services has asked the health care fraud unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether any laws were broken.