Pharmaceutical fraud has long drawn the attention of AARP, formerly known as the Association of Retired Persons. It has now drawn its ire, with the organization becoming co-counsel in a qui tam whistleblower suit against Abbott Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific.
A qui tam lawsuit is brought by private citizens on behalf of the government in cases where government fraud is alleged. If the government joins the suit and wins, a whistleblower receives a portion of any recovery.
The suit against the pharma companies claims that they deceived the government by marketing biliary stents - approved by the FDA - for off-label use as vascular stents, a use not approved by the agency. The suit alleges that the vascular stents were then fraudulently placed in millions of seniors to treat vascular disease and that Medicare and Medicaid paid millions of dollars for the operations. The companies are also accused of paying illegal kickbacks to medical providers to market and use the biliary stents as unapproved vascular stents.
The Department of Justice decided initially not to intervene in the case, but has now filed a notice of interest and may still join in the lawsuit.
Ed Silverman, the editor of Pharmalot, a blog that covers the pharmaceutical industry, says AARP's entry into the fray signals that, "Not only are employees, lawyers and prosecutors willing to force the issue." Silverman notes that the organization is sending a strong message about its concern with illegal drug marketing and off-label use that affects seniors "by injecting itself into the equation."