This story was co-published with the Chicago Tribune.
Executives inside pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca faced a high-stakes dilemma.
On one hand, Chicago psychiatrist Dr. Michael Reinstein was bringing the company a small fortune in sales and was conducting research that made one of its most promising drugs look spectacular.
On the other, some worried that his research findings might be too good to be true.
As Reinstein grew irritated with what he perceived as the company's slights, a top executive outlined the scenario in an e-mail to colleague
"If he is in fact worth half a billion dollars to (AstraZeneca)," the company's U.S. sales chief wrote in 2001, "we need to put him in a different category." To avoid scaring Reinstein away, he said, the firm should answer "his every query and satisfy any of his quirky behaviors."
Putting aside its concerns, AstraZeneca would continue its relationship with Reinstein, paying him $490,000 over a decade to travel the nation promoting its best-selling antipsychotic drug, Seroquel. In return, Reinstein provided the company a vast customer base: thousands of indigent, mentally ill residents in Chicago-area nursing homes.
During this period, Reinstein also faced accusations that he overmedicated and neglected patients who took a variety of drugs. But his research and promotional work went on, including studies and presentations examining many of the antipsychotics he prescribed on his daily rounds.
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