Lilly paid doctors to prescribe Zyprexa, notes say

September 8, 2009

Eli Lilly and Co. paid doctors in South Carolina for participating in a speakers' program in exchange for prescribing the antipsychotic Zyprexa, according to notes by Lilly sales representatives reviewed by Bloomberg News.

One Lilly sales representative even used golf bets to get more patients on the drug. During a golf game, a doctor agreed to start new patients on Zyprexa for each hole on which the sales rep scored a par.

“I got four pars out of nine holes,” Lilly salesman Vince Sullivan said in a February 2002 note. “I said I wanted my four new patients.”

The notes were reported by Bloomberg News this afternoon after being made public for the first time in a court hearing today in South Carolina’s lawsuit against Indianapolis-based Lilly. The state says it spent $200 million it shouldn’t have due to Lilly’s marketing of Zyprexa for unapproved uses.

South Carolina wants a court to impose a $5,000 fine against Lilly for each Zyprexa prescription since 1997, potentially yielding billions of dollars, according to Bloomberg.

Marni Lemons, a Lilly spokeswoman, told Bloomberg that the state’s lawyers took the notes “out of context” and “not one physician employed by the state of South Carolina has testified Lilly promoted off-label to them.”

“Call notes are jottings written by sales reps and most reps make hundreds of notes monthly. They are not literal recitations of interactions with physicians,” Lemons added.

In January, Lilly agreed to pay $1.42 billion to federal and state governments to resolve a lawsuit over Zyprexa marketing brought by the U.S. Justice Department. South Carolina did not join that settlement.

More than 30 states sued Lilly over Zyprexa. The only case that went to trial was in Alaska, which ended with a settlement that calls for Lilly to pay the state $15 million.

Other notes from Sullivan also suggest Lilly linked its payments to doctors with their volume of Zyprexa prescriptions.

In an August 2001 note, Sullivan told another salesman to tie a doctor’s Zyprexa prescriptions to participation in physician meetings where the benefits of Zyprexa were discussed. “If his numbers go up, maybe he can talk,” Sullivan said in the note, according to Bloomberg.

A year later, Sullivan’s sales records indicate he was pressing a doctor to write more Zyprexa prescriptions “because we’re paying him so much money” in the speakers’ program.


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