October 26

Penn State Pharmacist Fined for Ethics Violations & Taking Cash from Pfizer

Penn State Pharmacist Fined for Ethics Violations & Taking Cash from Pfizer

Fri, 15 Apr 2005

The latest report of collusion and cash payments between public officials and pharmaceutical companies, comes from the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission which found Steven Fiorello, the chief pharmacist of the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, guilty of colluding with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.

The Commission found that he became a member of Pfizer’s “advisory council” “around the same time he joined the state medication panel.” In his capacity as the Secretary of a state board in charge of selecting the drugs that were to be used to in state funded clinics, hospitals, justice department–that made him a major drug purchaser.

Kentucky TV reports that Fiorello took cash payments from Pfizer, and that with Pfizer he concocted a “study” that showed Pfizer’s drug, Zoloft, was the cheapest priced.

The Commission found him guilty of 20 violations, imposed a $27,000 fine and referred the case to the attorney general’s office for criminal prosecution.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav

Pa. gov’t pharmacist fined for ethics violations, ties to Pfizer

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The state Department of Public Welfare’s chief pharmacist repeatedly violated state ethics law by using his position to earn extra income from sources that included a drug manufacturer, the State Ethics Commission said in a report released Thursday.

The commission fined Steven Fiorello more than $27,000 and referred the case to the attorney general’s office for possible criminal prosecution.

In its report, which looks back as far as 1998, the commission cited repeated conflicts between Fiorello’s unofficial activities and his official duties, which included serving on a panel that decides which medications may be given to patients at the nine state mental hospitals. It also cited repeated failures to disclose his income from the drug maker Pfizer Inc. and other outside sources.

Fiorello became a member of Pfizer’s “advisory council” around the same time he joined the state medication panel. The council held annual meetings, apparently “to solicit input from health-care professionals to help Pfizer define its commercial strategies for its products,” the commission said.

In 1999, he teamed up with a Pfizer official on a state-financed study of antidepressants that showed Zoloft, a Pfizer product, to be among the least expensive drugs of that type, according to the commission.

He later received two $1,000 payments from Pfizer to present the study’s findings at company-sponsored conferences in Orlando, Fla., and Dublin, Ireland _ one of 20 violations the commission identified.

“It’s a study that he got paid to do as a commonwealth employee,” said John J. Contino, the commission’s executive director.

Among the other violations were:
_Fiorello participated in actions by the medication committee that involved drugs on the state’s formulary, including Pfizer products, at a time he had a financial relationship with Pfizer.

_ He accepted $3,500 in honoraria from Pfizer for attending meetings of its advisory board in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

_ As a former preceptor for Duquesne University’s pharmacy student internship program between 2000 and 2003, Fiorello received $2,400 for mentoring the interns on state time without his supervisor’s knowledge.

_ He accepted a $2,000 honorarium from another drug maker, Janssen Pharmaceutica Products, for participating in a 2002 state Department of Corrections conference that Janssen sponsored.

_ He received a $1,000 honorarium for helping to produce a CD-ROM that Pfizer sponsored through the University of Kentucky in 2000. Fiorello, 58, whose state salary was $82,310 last year, declined to be interviewed Thursday but apologized for violating the ethics law in a written statement. The 16-year veteran of the department said he accepted the commission’s conclusions, “although I do not necessarily agree with the findings.”

Fiorello said he has been a pharmacist in the state mental hospital system for more than 16 years. He said he was instrumental in developing the state’s current pharmaceutical purchasing contract, which he said has saved taxpayers millions of dollars through reduced prices for drugs used by state hospitals.

“Money has not been the motivating factor in my activities,” he said. “My activities have always been primarily for the best interests of our patients with mental illness and the profession of pharmacy.”

The commission received Fiorello’s check to cover the $27,268.50 fine on Thursday, Contino said.

Spokesmen for the Public Welfare Department and the attorney general’s office said they were reviewing the 101-page report.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Posted on Fri, Apr. 15, 2005
Official fined for ethics breach
The state’s top pharmacist plans to appeal a ruling that a pharmaceutical firm gave him cash and trips.
By John Sullivan
Inquirer Staff Writer

HARRISBURG – The top pharmacist at the state Department of Public Welfare violated the state ethics act by receiving money and trips from a pharmaceutical company while recommending that the state buy the company’s products, according to a ruling issued yesterday by the state Ethics Commission.

Steven J. Fiorello, who still works as the head of agency’s pharmacy division, also must pay $27,268 in penalties and restitution. The commission referred his case to the state Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal prosecution, according to the ruling.

Public welfare officials declined to comment on the case until they review the ruling.

Fiorello violated the State Ethics Act on 20 occasions, according to the ruling, by using his position with the state for personal gain and by failing to disclose his financial relationship with a drug company seeking to do business with the state.

Fiorello received at least $5,500 in honoraria and other compensation from Pfizer Inc., while he served as the secretary of a state board in charge of choosing drugs to be used in treating mentally ill patients under state care, investigators said.

Fiorello disputes that amount. At the time, Pfizer was seeking to sell the state drugs and some of its drugs were eventually included on a state list of preferred drugs that is widely used at state institutions.

The ethics board cleared Fiorello on six allegations, including those related to funds received from Janssen Pharmaceutica because the funds came after the company sought business from the state.

In statement issued yesterday, Fiorello said he was sorry for those activities and that, while he disagreed with the ruling, he would abide by it. But reached by phone at his office later, Fiorello said he would appeal it.

“It was unfair,” Fiorello said. “I feel I was singled out.”

Contact staff writer John Sullivan at 717-787-5934 or johnsullivan@phillynews.com.

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