TAMPA - For 11 years, Blair Hamrick couldn't tell anyone what he did. Now we know he helped uncover what the government calls wrong doing from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
"I told the truth," said Hamrick.
At 36, Hamrick said his career was skyrocketing. After graduating from Plant High School and the University of Tampa, he ended up in Colorado with a six figure job at GlaxoSmithKline. Life was good.
"I do feel that I did the right thing," said Hamrick. "The only regret I have is what it did to my then eight-year-old son, who is 17 now. I mean he suffered a lot. And he can not understand why. He can't understand why daddy can not get a job. Why don't we have our own home anymore?"
It was while working as a senior sales representative that Hamrick said he and another colleagues uncovered what are called off-label practices at GlaxoSmithKline.
"Meaning that drug x is indicated for adults only for migraine headache and they decide well golly why don't we give it to kids for migraines. Well, the reasons are for safety. What if the child has a stroke?" Hamrick explained. "It was an epiphany. It was like wow. This is wrong."
Hamrick said he went to company officials with his concerns and shortly thereafter was fired.
"It is safe to say that I after I came forward my performance evaluations started going down and my job ended and I was forced out," said Hamrick.
After hiring an attorney, Hamrick took those same concerns to the FDA. Under strict guidelines, he was sworn to secrecy during the government's investigation into GlaxoSmithKline.
That was 11 years ago. Since then, he said he lost everything. His job, his home and any future career prospects.
It wasn't until this month, when the Department of Justice released details of a historic settlement agreed to by GlaxoSmithKline that he can finally break his silence.
"It was a great day," Hamrick said smiling.
The company agreed to plead guilty to unlawful promotion, failure to report certain safety data and alleged false price reporting practices involving nine of its drugs. It also must pay a penalty of three billion dollars, the largest healthcare settlement in US history and the largest payment ever by a drug company.
Not only does Hamrick feel vindicated, he feels he made a difference.
"I feel I did save a life, maybe more. I am sure just when you calculate the numbers yes without question. I think so," said Hamrick.
Under federal guidelines, Hamrick may be entitled to 15-25 percent of the civil fine, which tops one billion dollars.
"It may sound cliché and I am sure a lot of people out there are going to say oh sure right. But, it never was about the money. It was about doing what was right," said Hamrick.
The company's CEO Sir Andrew Witty released this statement:
"I want to express our regret and reiterate that we have learned from the mistakes that were made."
Hamrick doesn't think the apology or money is enough.
"I hope eventually some of these people eventually go to prison. And I am not talking about country club prison. I am talking about doing hard time," said Hamrick. "I think the fines are a parking ticket versus vehicular manslaughter."
FULL INTERVIEW TEXT TRANSCRIPTION
FAZAN: Explain to us exactly what you did.
HAMRICK: It wasn't just me, my friend Greg Thorpe came forward and the company was promoting drugs off label, and off label including to children.
My friend Greg Thorpe went to our manager and complained and said he did not want to participate. He and I had been talking for a long time. We had been good friends and we were talking about the direction of the company where it was going. And he said don't you think this is wrong? Don't you think this is illegal and that is when they light went on and I said wow you are right. I mean if a kid is taking Wellbutrin and has a seizure. Whose fault is it? Is it my fault? Is it the doctor's fault? Is it the company's fault? I mean where does the buck stop? And so I then called my manager. I said I do not feel comfortable doing this program. My manager was very dismissive of it, like you need to do this. We need to get our market shares up. It is always about the numbers you know. Then of course my friend went to the compliance department and HR. They conducted an investigation and during that investigation, they interviewed several of us. I told the truth. Yep the company is doing these things and everybody is doing this off label selling. It is wide spread it is all over the country. At that point that is when the target gets painted on you. I don't think you go into this saying; I am going to be a whistle-blower one day. It is one of those things; I was a whistle-blower when I did not even know what a whistle-blower was. I mean simply by asking however you look at it asking the right question or the wrong question isn't this illegal? That is when you become the whistle-blower and you don't even know it. So that is what I did. I
stood by my friend who was doing the right thing. I felt children were being put in harm's way. I felt that no one was accountable and definitely management had no moral ground they were not on moral solid ground to tell me to keep doing this. It was an epiphany. It was like wow. This is wrong.
FAZAN: For the average consumer who may not know what off label is can you tell us what is off label?
HAMRICK: The FDA licenses drugs to be used for specific things that is what is called an indication. Many times physicians will discover that this drug may work for other disease states and that is fine. But when a company takes it upon itself to go off the label, meaning that drug x is indicated for adults only for migraine headache and they decide well golly why don't we give it to kids for migraines. Well, the reasons are for safety. What if the child has a stroke? Think about that. Whose is responsible when a little child has a stroke or a seizure? If it is your five or six year old child would you be angry, would you be upset? And unfortunately, there is nobody that is going to stand up and say I take responsibility for this action. No one has and no one will. It is just a table full of attorney's.
FAZAN: And you lost your job because you tried to uncover this?
HAMRICK: I can't really talk about it. But it is safe to say that I after I came forward my performance evaluations started going down and my job ended and I was forced out. Just because of pending legal issues I can't specifically say yes that is why I was fired but I can say it sure looks that way.
FAZAN: Your life though took a dramatic turn, right? Emotionally, financially. Do you feel you did the right thing?
HAMRICK: Yes, I do.
FAZAN: Do you regret doing the right thing?
HAMRICK: I do not. The only regret I have is what it did to my then eight year old son, who is 17 now. I mean he suffered a lot. And he can not understand why. He can't understand why Daddy can not get a job. Why don't we have our own home anymore? Why can't I have a driver's license? All my friends at the high school he goes to -all my friends drive. Well I can't afford it. I can't afford to put you on my insurance because my insurance quadruples. There are times that I literally, I mean it doesn't look like I don't miss meals but there are times depending on what my son wants to eat. I many not eat. We get towards the end of the month from about the 20th of the month on its slim pickings. I am always going to make sure that my son has what he needs. Sometimes I do not get to eat.
FAZAN: Do you think you saved a life?
HAMRICK: Oh I am sure just when you calculate the numbers yes without question. I think so. But has the behavior stopped? The company likes to say that it has stopped. I don't know if it has or not.
FAZAN: You talked about losing your home, not being to eat. Bless your heart. Can you share some of the struggles? You were not able to get a job and you could not even tell anybody.
HAMRICK: Right. You can't tell anybody. The struggles are with humility. You can't tell anybody. People look at you strangely. They want to know what is wrong. They either paint you as crazy, when people don't understand; we fear what we don't understand. So when people don't understand they shun you. They stay away from you. So I came back from my home town because I needed to. I needed help. I feel a lot of people wanted to keep there distance and I understand that. Everybody fears what they do not understand. Hopefully, now people understand. Hopefully people think I did the honorable thing. It is not just me there are other people involved. You know Greg Thorpe. He suffered as well. I mean he has four kids. He spent 23 years with the company plus another 11 year fighting this. You are talking 35 years spent fighting an evil. A pure evil
FAZAN: When it was announced that GlaxoSmithKline reached a settlement was that some sort of vindication for you?
HAMRICK: Absolutely. It was a great day. It may sound cliché and I am sure a lot of people out there are going to say oh sure right. But, it never was about the money. It was about doing what was right. Having that seal that burden lifted on my back, now no matter what happens I think someone out there would give me a job now. Because when you are interviewing for jobs you can't tell them I blew the whistle on the largest pharmaceutical company in the world because they were breaking the law. You can't tell then that. So now, I could. So, maybe somebody out there will say, wow this guy is honest. I mean how rare is it to find someone that is honest and someone you can trust.
FAZAN: And at the time, you did not know what a whistle blower was. And at the time you went to company officials with your concerns you had no idea there may be money in it for you?
HAMRICK: Not at all. I mean we went to the company a year before we filed the lawsuit. We
didn't even know there was a possibility. We didn't even know what a false claims act was until about October or November of 2002 and we filed in January of 2003.
FAZAN: Now that GlaxoSmithKline took some responsibility. Do you see a light at the end of your long struggle?
HAMRICK: I do. I mean just having that burden off me is just wonderful enough. I do. I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. It has given me a lot more purpose because when you can't find a job, you are just struggling very day to feed your child. You are dealing with their emotional struggles and not understand what the heck is going on. What happened 10 years ago? I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a lot of vindication. I have been waiting for this for a long time.
FAZAN: Did you ever think it would get here?
HAMRICK: I have to be honest with you. And this may turn some people off. I am a person of faith. I have a very strong faith. That is not to say there were times I did not think it was going to happen. But Ultimately, I always knew deep down in my soul, I knew that this would eventually be resolved. No of course not everything is not resolved. There are still many things to be resolved. But these will be resolved eventually. What faith is knowing something to be true that you can't see? I always knew it was going to happen I couldn't see it. I could not put my finer on it. So to answer your question in a short way. Yes, I do think eventually this would come out.
FAZAN: So what happens now? There is a possibility you may not get anything from the settlement, although I know that is not likely.
HAMRICK: Right. Say worse case scenario and I don't. I am thankful at least someone now would say, wow what this guy did is honest and we need someone who is going to be honest. That is what I am looking for. And that is a needle in the haystack sometimes. So, yes, I think finally I can get something now as far as a job. My plan is to move on with my life. My number one plan right now, is that I have a son that is 17 and everyone that is raising a teenager knows what 17 is like. Right now my focus is to get my son through school, get him into college, let him be his own man because a 17 year old does not grasp when there is something coming like money. They do not understand. I try to explain to him. You have to be your own man because if we come into a lot of money and you become this playboy. No one will respect you. You know you have to be your own man. You have to have your own education. You have to plot your own way. So my number one focus right now is my son and getting him through high school and into college and on his way to becoming his own man.
FAZAN: Is there anything else you want to get there?
HAMRICK: What is next for Glaxo? Is it business as usual for them? I mean they signed a corporate integrity agreement. But, what does that really do? I mean we read about all these fines and even Elliot Sptizer was quoted in the New York Times as saying this behavior will continue until someone goes to prison. There is nobody where the buck stops with. Everyone is passing the buck. Nobody is stepping up and saying I am sorry I did do this and I am sorry. If your child comes up to you and says I messed up, you may get angry but you will get more angry with covering things up and lying. The lying that goes with no I did not do it. It is the same way here. Here you have a corporation that Oh I didn't do I didn't do it for 11 years. And now, oh it's a long time ago. Well you can't have it both much of one
I hope eventually some of these people eventually go to prison. And I am not talking about country club prison. I am talking about doing hard time. You have people in the prison system now where caught with an ounce of weed, and they are doing time. Where these people look what they have done with your children and they have just skated by right by. I think that is imperative that the punishment for the crime.
FAZAN: So you do not think the fines are enough?
HAMRICK: I think the fines are a parking ticket versus vehicular manslaughter. If someone commits vehicular manslaughter it was an accident but would you just fine them? You wouldn't. I don't want to say it is not enough. It is a deterrent but I don't know how much.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.