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Drug company must turn over e-mails

An Abingdon U.S. District Court has ordered Abbott Laboratories to turn over e-mails of current and former top executives in a government investigation of health care fraud.

Abbott is under investigation for off-label marketing of its drug Depakote, approved by the FDA in 198 for treatment of bipolar disorder, epileptic seizures and migraines. The company purportedly is marketing the drug as a treatment for agitation and aggression in the elderly.

Initially, the government subpoenaed e-mails sent or received by 13 individuals from 1996 through 2008. After Abbott protested, the government whittled its request down to e-mails of three individuals: William Dempsey, Miles White and Jeffrey Leiden.

In a March 10 order, U.S. District Judge Samuel G. Wilson said it would not be unduly burdensome for the company to produce e-mails for three out of its 72,000 employees worldwide.

Abbott already had been ordered to preserve 32,300 backup tapes for other litigation. It tried to turn that conservation effort to its advantage, arguing that the sheer magnitude of its e-document files meant it would cost too much in time and money to produce the Depakote documents.

Abbott said it would have to restore 53 backup tapes, at $750 per tape, $10,000 to “establish the back-up environment” at a rate of $240 per hour, and “anywhere from $350-$650” for each gigabyte of restored data to place it in reviewable format.

Wilson was only so sympathetic.

If retrieving the requested e-mails was as tough as Abbott suggested, “the fault lies no so much with an overly broad governmental request as it does with Abbott’s policy or practice of retaining documents” in a format that “shrouds them in practical obscurity.”
By Deborah Elkins

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