On the heels of last week’s U.S. Justice Department announcement of a record-breaking $3 billion settlement in which GlaxoSmithKline was accused of illegally marketing some of its drugs, another Feds claim has come to light. Celebrity doctor, Dr. Drew, was apparently paid to push the Glaxo antidepressants involved in the massive settlement, the Feds are saying.
Part of the historical case involves claims that Glaxo used what Forbes described as a “network of paid experts, speaking to doctors and to the press,” to tout uses for which Paxil, Wellbutrin and other drugs that had not been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, the Department of Justice states that one of those paid experts was celebrity doc, Drew Pinsky who hosts the radio show Loveline, which can also be seen on MTV. Pinsky since hosted Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew on HLN, and Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers on the CW, noted Forbes.
According to the government, Pinsky was allegedly paid $275,000 in the two-month period from March to April 1999 to discuss Glaxo’s antidepressant, Wellbutrin SR, “in settings where it did not appear that Dr. Pinsky was speaking for GSK,” according to Forbes, citing Justice Department documents. Among the complaint’s exhibits are invoices from PR firm, Cooney Waters, to Glaxo for Pinsky’s spokesperson services. Exhibits also include a transcript of Pinsky’s appearance on national radio show, David Essel–Alive!, said Forbes. The $3 billion settlement includes $727 million that Glaxo agreed to pay in criminal fines for the way in which it marketed its antidepressants, Wellbutrin SR and Paxil, said Forbes.
A difference between Wellbutrin SR and other antidepressants concerns libido issues, explained Forbes, which said the Glaxo drug may not decrease libido, as can occur in other drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Glaxo’s Paxil, and may increase sex drive. Wellbutrin’s package insert indicates both “decreased libido” and “increased libido” as potential side effects; however, Glaxo never received FDA approval for advertising Wellbutrin as having fewer sexual side effects and allegedly paid speakers, including Pinksy, who spoke about how, in his practice, he prescribed Wellbutrin SR for patients suffering from a number of complaints, such as lowered sex drive, said Forbes.
The transcript reveals that the Essel show episode opens with a clip from a woman who said she experienced 60 consecutive orgasms, “just nonstop.” When asked if this is possible, Pinsky said, “Oh yeah. For some women. What I think she was amazed about was it just suddenly started and that kind of thing most typically happens from medication, frankly.” Pinsky then said Wellbutrin, which he also referred to generically as bupropion, is the drug with which he has the most experience in his practice regarding avoiding antidepressant-associated sexual side effects, saying, “It actually is the one we advocate, one of the things we suggest people do if they’re getting a decrease in their libido or decrease in their arousal, which typically occurs in the serotonin re-uptake inhibitor medication,” Forbes reported. The accompanying PR firm note stated, “During the fifteen-minute segment, Dr. Pinsky communicated key campaign messages.”
Pinsky responded to Forbes, by email via a spokesman, stating, “In the late 90s I was hired to participate in a 2 year initiative discussing intimacy and depression which was funded by an educational grant by Glaxo Wellcome. Services for the non branded campaign included town hall meetings, writings and multi media activities in conjunction with the patient advocacy group the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA). My comments were consistent with my clinical experience.”
According to a statement from the Justice Department, the $3 billion Glaxo settlement constitutes the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history and the largest payment ever by a drug company. According to the government, among other issues, Glaxo promoted off-label uses of Wellbutrin, including for weight-loss and for the treatment of sexual dysfunction and substance abuse addictions. Glaxo paid doctors millions of dollars to promote these unapproved uses of Wellbutrin, the Justice Department charged.