Archive for Saturday, September 1, 2001

Company denies prior knowledge about dilutions

Eli Lilly says it didn’t suspect pharmacist of tampering until May of this year

September 1, 2001

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— Eli Lilly and Co. says it did not suspect pharmacist Robert Courtney might be diluting chemotherapy drugs until May of this year.

Several lawsuits against the company, including three filed on Friday, claim the Indianapolis-based company knew about the dilutions in early 2000, but did nothing.

The latest lawsuits against Lilly and Courtney include one wrongful death claim and two negligence suits.

Company spokesman Jeff Newton said the lawsuits are "completely without merit."

Courtney is charged in U.S. District Court in Kansas City with diluting expensive cancer drugs, including Lilly's Gemzar, so he could pocket the difference in prices. On Monday he pleaded innocent to 20 felony counts of altering the drugs Gemzar and Taxol.

Earlier Friday, the company released a timeline showing that its sales representative, Darryl Ashley, did not start suspecting Courtney might be diluting drugs until May 15, after meeting with nurses at Dr. Verda Hunter's office.

Ashley was looking into discrepancies between the amount of Gemzar Courtney ordered and how much he distributed when nurses told him they had not seen common side effects of chemotherapy drugs in Hunter's patients.

Ashley first noticed discrepancies in early 2000, as reported to the FBI, but it was not clear that data was accurate, the company said.

"Anybody who claims Lilly was aware of dilution in the year 2000 is flat wrong," Garry A. Nicholson, executive director of Lilly's U.S. oncology business, told The Indianapolis Star Thursday. "We had no indication there was anything untoward happening."

Nicholson said the salesman's awareness of sales discrepancies for Gemzar were typical and there was no reason for Lilly to suspect any wrongdoing.

Gemzar is one of the toughest drugs for Lilly to track, Nicholson said, because it is sold only to wholesalers and because doctors use it on patients in their offices without writing prescriptions.

According to court records, Hunter met with the FBI on July 27, after tests of drugs from Courtney's pharmacy showed they were diluted. The FBI contacted Ashley on Aug. 13, and Lilly said that was the first time he knew tests had shown drugs from Courtney's pharmacy had been diluted.

Michael Ketchmark, who has filed all the civil lawsuits against Courtney and Eli Lilly, said he's not convinced the company did everything it could have.

"I think the thing that's most disturbing is that Eli Lilly actually had full knowledge in May 2001 about dilution of chemotherapy drugs and failed to contact state or federal authorities," Ketchmark said.

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