Contact: Ray De Lorenzi
Washington, DC—A June 8 New York Times front-page article reported that world-renowned researchers failed to disclose consulting fees from drug companies, bolstering arguments against preemption of state law and giving corporations total immunity from all lawsuits.
The New York Times reported that Harvard child psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph Biederman, as well as two other Harvard colleagues, each earned over $1 million from drugmakers but did not report it to university officials. According to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), the three doctors may have violated federal and university research rules to police conflicts of interest. They also financed some of their research through government grants.
"While drug and device companies engage in unethical practices, they are receiving complete immunity from lawsuits and leaving victims with no legal recourse," said American Association for Justice President Kathleen Flynn Peterson.
Since January 2005, federal agencies have exceeded Congressional authority by issuing 52 rules that preempt state law. Federal regulatory preemption allows corporations to receive complete immunity and escape accountability even when they knowingly injure and endanger consumers with unsafe products. Federal regulation is meant to provide a minimal standard of safety for food, drugs, cars, medical devices and railroads. Under a little known doctrine called preemption, there has been an attempt to erode consumer rights by quietly using federal rules to preempt state lawsuits.
According to the article, "The Harvard group's consulting arrangements with drug makers were already controversial because of the researchers' advocacy of unapproved uses of psychiatric medicines in children." One of Biederman's trials involved anti-psychotic Risperdal, which doctors prescribed to children after marketing materials did not include all the off-label side effects for younger patients. As a result, children in New Jersey and Florida developed lactating breasts, in some cases large enough to require double mastectomies.
Two studies released in April from the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that Merck, maker of withdrawn painkiller Vioxx, violated publishing ethics by ghostwriting academic articles and downplaying the number of patient deaths.
"This pattern of greed makes clear that drug companies cannot be trusted to reveal the dangers of unsafe drugs and medical devices," said Flynn Peterson. "Giving corporations total immunity from all lawsuits, even when they knowingly make a dangerous product, goes too far."