Whistleblower lawsuit accuses 3 drugmakers

By LINDA A. JOHNSON | September 6, 2011 | 5:25 PM EDT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Three generic drugmakers are being accused in a whistleblower lawsuit of scheming to overcharge the government for medicines.

The U.S. Attorney's office on Tuesday joined in the lawsuit, brought by Chicago pharmacist Bernard Lisitza.

His attorneys alleged in a 162-page complaint unsealed Tuesday afternoon that Par Pharmaceuticals of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., and two foreign generic drugmakers overcharged the Medicaid program for certain generic drugs.

Attorneys Michael Behn and Linda Wyetzner said the three companies got pharmacies to illegally switch from generic versions of Prozac and Zantac to Par's products so it could charge Medicaid significantly higher prices.

The other defendants are Alphapharm PTY of Australia and Canada's Genpharm ULC.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Wawzenski of Chicago has joined in the case, but just against Par, according to spokesman Randall Samborn.

"We have no further comment," Samborn said.

A spokesperson for Par did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

All three companies have denied wrongdoing, according to the Behn & Wyetzner law firm.

Their lawsuit seeks damages triple the amount the federal government was overcharged, plus the maximum damages allowed in states whose Medicaid programs allegedly were defrauded and reimbursement of costs and "other relief" for the their firm, Lisitza and the state and federal government plaintiffs.

Lisitza has participated in other whistleblower cases, helping to recover more than $120 million for federal and state governments in Medicaid fraud. Those cases brought settlements of $50 million from nursing home pharmacy Omnicare Inc., $37 million from drugstore chain CVS Caremark Corp. and $35 million from pharmacy chain Walgreens, according to the law firm.

"Bernie wanted the government to get to the heart of the drug-switching schemes — drug manufacturers who were marketing dosage forms touting increased pharmacy profits at taxpayers' expense," Behn said in a statement.

Under federal and state Falso Claims Acts, private citizens aware of fraud can bring cases that help the government recover illegal gains and additional civilian penalties. Those whistleblowers are entitled to part of what the government recovers, usually 15 percent to 30 percent.