Ex-Worker Wins $96M for Blowing Whistle on Drug Giant.
(Oct. 27) — Whistle-blower Cheryl Eckard has won $96 million as part of a $750 million penalty against GlaxoSmithKline over faulty drug manufacturing in a case she says was driven by worries about consumer safety.
"This is not something I ever wanted to do, but because of patient safety issues, it was necessary," she told reporters in Boston after the British drug giant’s settlement was announced Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.
Eckard, 51, was the company’s quality control manager. She discovered violations at the company’s plant in Puerto Rico in 2002 and reported them to her bosses, her lawyers said. She was fired in 2003 after repeatedly reporting problems to the company, and she later filed a lawsuit.
GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay the millions in fines, penalties and settlements to resolve claims that it knowingly made and sold adulterated drugs, including Paxil, a popular antidepressant. Other problems include the failure to guarantee that Bactroban, an ointment, and an anti-nausea drug, Kytril, were not contaminated, according to reports. No patients seem to have been harmed by the problems at the plant, a prosecutor said.Eckard, who worked in North Carolina, is to receive $96 million as a whistle-blower under the federal False Claims Act. The law offers a cut of the money recovered as incentive for people with knowledge of false claims to come forward.
She said going ahead with the lawsuit wasn’t easy.
"I think it’s very, very difficult to survive this,” Eckard said, according to New England Cable News. "It’s difficult to survive this financially, emotionally, you lose all your friends, because all your friends are people you have at work.”
Still, she said, “You really do have to understand that it’s a very difficult process, but very well worth it.”
Her lawyers, Neil Getnick and Leslie Ann Skillen, believe her share is the single-biggest whistle-blower award in the U.S., NECN reported.
"This case will change the way drugmakers run their factories," Getnick said, according to The New York Times.Eckard was sent to the plant in Cidra, Puerto Rico, to fix problems the Food and Drug Administration had cited in a warning letter, according to the Times. She found that the company’s premier manufacturing facility had a contaminated water system, an air system that allowed products to be cross-contaminated and pills of different strengths mixed in the same bottles, among other problems, the newspaper said.
She complained to top company officials, but nothing was done, even after she threatened to call the FDA, the Times said. She filed her lawsuit, and the FDA began a criminal investigation. The plant was closed in 2009 because the company was unable to fix it, according to the newspaper.
Eckard hopes she’ll inspire others who see something wrong to speak up.
"You have to believe in your heart [that] this is the right thing," she said, according to NECN. "In my case, I was very, very concerned about patient safety.”