Friday, December 28, 2007

Giuliani and Oxycontin: How much influence?

Last month, we heard from columnist Don McNay that "The mainstream media [have] ignored how [Rudy] Giuliani made his living. Helping a company that sold addictive drugs is worse than being married a few times." McNay started writing about that in May. Today, The New York Times tells the story of the presidential candidate and Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the painkiller Oxycontin (in photo by Toby Talbot of The Associated Press).

"His work for Purdue, the company’s first and longest-running client, provides a window into how he used his standing as an eminent lawyer, a Republican insider and a national celebrity to aid a controversial client and build a business fortune," Barry Meier and Eric Lipton write of Giuliani Partners, the consulting firm of the former New York mayor and U.S. attorney.

They start their story with his final phone call last year to John Brownlee, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, who was about to bring charges against the company and three executives for "perhaps the most aggressive promotional campaign for a high-powered narcotic ever undertaken. It promoted the drug not only to pain specialists, but to family doctors with little experience in treating serious pain or recognizing drug abuse. As a result of the expanded access, critics charged, OxyContin wound up in the high schools and street corners of rural America where curious teenagers crushed the pill, defeating the time-release formula, and ended up addicts, or in some cases, dead."

From June to October 2006, Brownlee and Giuliani met or spoke six times. In the last of those conversations, the prosecutor told Giuliani "that he expected to ask for a grand jury indictment by the end of the month. Plea discussions ensued and Mr. Brownlee ultimately agreed that the three executives would not have to do jail time. . . . After years of denial and a high-profile public relations campaign, the company was forced to admit that it had misled doctors and patients. But to the parents of young people who had died getting high on OxyContin, the absence of jail time was evidence of Mr. Giuliani’s influence."

Not so, U.S. District Judge James Jones said when he accepted the plea agreement, which fined the company and the executives $634 million. “It has been implied that because Mr. Giuliani is a prominent national politician, Purdue may have received a favorable deal from the government solely because of politics,” he said. “I completely reject this claim.” (Read more)

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