By Marcia Caller Jaffe | mjaffe@atljewishtimes.com

Meredith Rothman McCoyd for Atlanta Jewish Times

Meredith Rothman McCoyd

Blue-eyed Meredith Rothman McCoyd, who attended nursery school at the Atlanta Jewish Community Center and Sunday school at Ahavath Achim Synagogue, found herself in Virginia in 2007 filing a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against her pharmaceutical company employer.

McCoyd as a child had been on a medication that she later sold as a pharmaceutical rep. The problem was that the epilepsy drug, Depakote, had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use on Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients, for whom she was instructed to sell it.

Because she worked out of her home, she had reams of email messages proving the case.

The company settled McCoyd’s federal whistleblower lawsuit, consolidated with three other whistleblower cases, with a guilty plea in U.S. District Court in 2012.

Now a woman of 47 with a meaningful bank account, McCoyd chooses ways to give back to her DeKalb community.

“Ms. McCoyd has long been an advocate of psychiatric care in the public sector,” said Dr. Joseph Bona, the chief medical officer of the DeKalb Community Service Board. “She serves on the board of directors of the agency and has been a tireless proponent of quality service for all. Her passion and commitment to young people exceeds her financial generosity, and we are proud that she works with us. The citizens of DeKalb County owe her a debt of gratitude.”

She talked to the Atlanta Jewish Times in her first interview since the settlement.

Jaffe: Is it serendipitous that you were selling a drug that you actually took as a child?

McCoyd: It’s not. When I was 10 and suffering from epilepsy, I had been on some medications that were not working or had side effects. My parents took me to the best doctors, who put me on Depakote. The very next morning when I woke up, I was a new person and felt normal again. Thus I wanted to work with that specific drug when I grew up.

 

Jaffe: So when you were selling it, what led to the suit?

McCoyd: We were marketing it to clinicians for agitation associated with dementia. That was not an FDA-approved use, and I knew it. Many reps were doing the same, but I was the first whistleblower to file, then three others. Hundreds were afraid and did not participate.

 

Jaffe: So how was it settled?

McCoyd: I had a very high-powered Jewish attorney, Reuben Guttman. In five years, the case was settled. It was published in The New York Times. Guttman called the facts leading to the case “a train wreck.”

 

Jaffe: Why would a drug company take such a chance?

McCoyd: It’s viewed as a cost of doing business. There is mega-money in pharmaceuticals; settling for a couple of billion here and there is de rigueur for them.

 

Jaffe: So you quit work and decided to do what with your life?

McCoyd: As a single mom, my No. 1 priority is my wonderful son, who is in the Decatur public school system. I want to seek out meaningful ways to elevate the lives of others — sounds trite, but make a real difference.

 

Jaffe: So how does one go about choosing?

McCoyd: As a teen I volunteered at DeKalb Community Services and witnessed the suffering firsthand, mainly among underinsured people with mental illness. Literally, my heart was bleeding for the developmentally delayed and those with substance abuse issues. There are so many devastating illnesses out there. I am glad that my mother convinced me to volunteer. Writing checks is important, but so is hands-on involvement.

 

Jaffe: At the risk of overexposure, it is relevant to mention some real numbers here. Is it correct that you gave the largest single gift of $500,000 to the Decatur Education Foundation, alongside $100,000 to the City Schools of Decatur and $20,000 to the DeKalb Community Service Board, when you began the initiative?

McCoyd: That’s about right. Plus, at the end of the year, I review what specific principals and teachers have accomplished and award that separately.

 

Jaffe: How do you arrive at a budget for giving?

McCoyd: I work backwards with my tax CPAs to determine a formula.

 

Jaffe: What advice would you give to others when they consider donating money?

McCoyd: Excellent question. I learned some of this the hard way. Here are some guidelines:

  • For any donation $10,000-plus, require a steward who will communicate with you on progress along the way and specifics on how the money is distributed.
  • Earmark monies for specific projects. For example, my DeKalb Community Service Board funds are set aside for a program (Prevention and Early Intervention Program, or PEIP) — a holistic approach to the identification and early intervention of “at-risk for psychosis” in young people — in order to improve the course of the illness by utilizing a social media platform. The City Schools of Decatur funds are earmarked to ensure that every child gets an iPad. The Decatur Education Foundation funds are set aside for the profoundly disabled.

 

Jaffe: What’s next? I sniff a book and movie deal.

McCoyd: Could be.

 

Jaffe: So what’s the lesson here?

McCoyd: I volunteered before I had money. Everyone can help. Happiness comes from being able to change people’s lives.