Kathleen Sharp may keep a low profile around Santa Barbara, but the award-winning investigative journalist and author of the newly published Blood Feud is quickly garnering national recognition.

Earlier this year, Sharp’s book, which exposes a Big Pharma drug scandal, was optioned for film by New Regency Enterprises. She is already working as a consultant with screenwriters Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, who wrote Tower Heist, the 2011 crime caper starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy.

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A California native, Sharp moved to Santa Barbara in the early 1990s to work for the Santa Barbara News-Press. Her tenure as a writer includes articles for Noozhawk, The New York Times Magazine, Parade, Elle, Playboy and Fortune, among many others, and she’s consulted on film documentaries for Turner Classic Movies, Bravo and the Biography Channel.

Her book, Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood, which recounts the career of the late studio executive Lew Wasserman and his wife, Edie, was turned into the documentary The Last Mogul, which Sharp co-produced and premiered at the 2006 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Sharp’s latest work, Blood Feud, tells the true story of two pharmaceutical salesmen who blow the whistle on Procrit, a risky and deadly medication licensed by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.

Sharp recently opened up about her eye-opening endeavor into Big Pharma and how she saw a drug scandal unfold right in front of her eyes.

She first become involved with Blood Feud in 2004 when Mark Duxbury, a charming and witty salesman from Johnson & Johnson contacted her and shared alarming statistics about Procrit, which is intended to treat anemia and is the No. 1 reimbursed drug by Medicare.

Procrit, as it was marketed by Johnson & Johnson, was supposed to be a wonder drug. Developed by Thousand Oaks-based Amgen, Procrit was hailed in the 1980s as the first biomedical hit, but Sharp says the very salesmen who sold it discovered that it produced severe and lethal side effects.

“You have a drug that doesn’t work for a disease that doesn’t exist,” Sharp said. “It produced blood cells for anemia, but anemia isn’t a disease. I just couldn’t believe that (Johnson & Johnson) could be guilty of illegal promotion and knowingly sell a drug that was causing heart attacks.”

As Sharp finished other side projects, in 2007 she began to fully investigate Duxbury’s claims. She soon concluded that Johnson & Johnson was aware it was selling the dangerous drug and had tried to cover up its wrongdoings.

“I asked Johnson & Johnson several times over the years to give me an interview on the record,” said Sharp. “I wrote to PR, attorneys, and they always said no. To me that was a big part of the story. Johnson & Johnson was always known for being accountable.”

Sharp acknowledged she was initially intimidated by the thought of writing a book about a large corporation like Johnson & Johnson. But when the Food and Drug Administration announced it would hold hearings on a drug similar to Procrit, she hopped on the first red-eye flight to Washington, D.C., from Santa Barbara.

“I saw firsthand this national scandal unfolding,” Sharp said. “At the same time Congress was holding hearings and that’s when I said ‘aha,’ we had a huge international drug scandal, and I can tell the story of Mark Duxbury.”

The FDA warned that high doses of Procrit may cause heart attacks and strokes. In June 2011, the agency officially recommended that doctors use the lowest possible dose of Procrit and to lower or interrupt treatment when a patient’s hemoglobin reaches 10 to 11 grams per deciliter of blood, from the previous levels of 10 to 12 grams. At the time, Johnson & Johnson announced its support for the change in prescribing levels.

Sharp spent more than a year and a half researching for Blood Feud, meeting with regulators in Washington, spending time with Duxbury and going through an estimated 18,000 documents.

Blood Feud details the research done by Sharp while recounting the intimate relationship between Duxbury and his colleague as they raced to make public the documents exposing the dangers of Procrit. Sharp has been receiving praise from critics for her book as a thrilling piece of creative nonfiction.

Sharp sees parallels between Blood Feud and Noozhawk’s Prescription for Abuse series, a 2011 special investigative report that explored the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County.

“This story shows how Johnson & Johnson drove up dosages of these drugs and pushed and expanded the use of these prescription drugs that were never approved by the FDA,” Sharp said.

“There was a huge amount of abuse by Johnson & Johnson to expand the use to people who are undergoing chemo and who are tired — tired mothers and overworked fathers. That’s abuse, and it’s abuse that we pay for.”

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Noozhawk intern Tim Fucci can be reached at tim.fucci@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.