Pfizer whistleblower wins 2009 honor for business ethics

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An ethics think tank has named John Kopchinski, a Pfizer Inc. whistleblower, as 2009's most influential person in business ethics.

Ethisphere, which focuses on business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability, ranked Kopchinski first on its list of the 100 most influential people in business ethics, according to its Web site.

According to the organization, "Kopchinski blew the whistle on Pfizer's marketing activity and received $51.1 million of the penalty that Pfizer paid for illegally marketing some of its drugs. Four other whistleblowers received some of the award as well, but Kopchinski earned the largest piece of the pie for his role. Officially turned whistleblowing into big business."

As a former sales representative for Pfizer, Kopchinski exposed the company's illegal sales and marketing campaign for the prescription painkiller Bextra for off-label uses and in doses that endangered patients' health and lives.

Acording to Phillips & Cohen LLP of Washington, D.C., which represented Kopchinski, the Food & Drug Administration approved Bextra to treat arthritis as well as menstrual pain in very limited doses. Phillips & Cohen specializes in representing whistleblowers in cases involving fraud against the government, tax matters and securities violations.

Kopchinski alleged in his lawsuit - which the government joined - that Pfizer promoted Bextra for uses and in doses that far exceeded what the FDA had approved, putting patients at risk for heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung). Bextra was withdrawn from the market in 2005.

In a statement Friday, Pfizer reiterated its denial of the civil allegations set forth in the multiple complaints, but acknowledged "certain improper promotional conduct related to Zyvox and the Bextra conduct involved in the plea agreement."

Pfizer paid $1.8 billion in September to the government to settle Kopchinski's lawsuit and a related criminal charge. The company settled four other whistleblower lawsuits at the same time, bringing the total settlement to $2.3 billion. It was the largest health care fraud settlement ever and the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the U.S.

Pfizer employs about 5,000 people in Groton and New London. Its New London site is scheduled to close within two years.

p.daddona@theday.com

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