Grassley's NAMI Probe May Want to Look at Pfizer Whistleblower Suit

Last Updated Oct 22, 2009 11:22 AM EDT

Sen. Charles Grassley is investigating the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the New York Times reports. He might want to look into Pfizer's $2.3 billion Bextra settlement as one of the suits within it made some juicy claims about how NAMI works.

NAMI is supposed to represent mentally ill people, not drug companies, but executive director Michael Fitzpatrick agrees Big Pharma's influence over the organization has been excessive. The Times:

"I understand that NAMI gets painted as being in the pockets of pharmaceutical companies, and somehow that all we care about is pharmaceuticals," Mr. Fitzpatrick said. "It's simply not true."
To underline the point, the Times describes this NAMI gala at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington:
Tickets were $300 each. Before a dinner of roasted red bell pepper soup, beef tenderloin and tilapia, Dr. Stephen H. Feinstein, president of the alliance's board, thanked Bristol-Myers Squibb, the pharmaceutical company.
"For the past five years, Bristol-Myers has sponsored this dinner at the highest level," Dr. Feinstein said.
AstraZeneca is also a funder, the Times says.* (See correction below.) The Times says NAMI has taken $23 million in recent years from drug companies.

One place Grassley might want to look for information about what NAMI does is in one of the lawsuits disclosed within Pfizer's $2.3 billion Bextra settlement.

That suit -- noted by BNET in September -- alleges that Pfizer turned NAMI into a "Trojan Horse" to promote the antipsychotic drug Geodon for off-label use in children, according to the former pharmaceutical sales rep who filed it. NAMI's web site was used to promote off-label use of Geodon in kids, and NAMI's former president, James McNulty, was on Pfizer's payroll, the suit alleges.

If Grassley needs a list of companies to subpoena for records relating to NAMI, he might start with those listed as NAMI funders in the Geodon suit:

  • Janssen $2.08 million
  • Novartis $1.87 million
  • Pfizer $1.3 million
  • Abbott Laboratories $1.24 million
  • Wyeth-Ayerst Pharmaceuticals $658,000
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb $613,505
Pfizer said of the Geodon qui tam suit:
Pfizer denies all federal, state and qui tam allegations, with two exceptions. We acknowledge certain improper actions related to the past promotion of Bextra and Zyvox. Beyond those two exceptions we deny all federal and state and qui tam claims.
* Correction: This post originally said that the identity of NAMI's donors were kept secret, because the Times reported that NAMI "has refused for years to disclose specifics of its fund-raising, saying the details were private." This turns out to be wrong. NAMI details its donors here and here. Apologies for the error.