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Glaxo Paid Dr. Drew to Pump Depression Drug as Libido Pill


Glaxo agrees to pay $3 billion after US prosecutors accuse the company of promoting drugs for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data. Among the medical experts paid by the drug maker: "Loveline's" Drew Pinsky

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Not only did GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) just agree to pay a record $3 billion in a fraud case brought by the US government, the big pharma company also put a face on the illegal practice of promoting drugs for unapproved uses. That face: celebrity doctor Drew Pinsky, best known for the radio and TV show Loveline.

Glaxo indirectly paid Pinsky, also known as Dr. Drew, $275,000 in two payments in 1999 when he was hosting Loveline on radio and on MTV, US prosecutors charge. (The MTV show is no longer on the air.) Justice Department prosecutors say that Glaxo was promoting depression drug Wellbutrin for weight loss, sexual dysfunction, drug addiction, and attention deficit hyperactivity even though it wasn't approved for those uses.

In June 1999, Pinsky went on a national radio program and pumped Wellbutrin for its libido-enhancing effects, the US charges. [PDF page 22] Pinsky said "switching to or adding Wellbutrin is recommended for people experiencing a loss of libido," the feds say.

What's more, Pinsky said on the show that the active drug in Wellbutrin "could explain a woman suddenly having 60 orgasms in one night," according to the US complaint.

Pinsky, who now has a show on the HLN cable network, said in a statement Tuesday: "In the late '90s, I was hired to participate in a two-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 multimedia activities in conjunction with the patient advocacy group, the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association. My comments were consistent with my clinical experience."

Wellbutrin was just one of the drugs cited by the government. Glaxo agreed to plead guilty to two criminal counts of introducing misbranded drugs, Paxil and Welbutrin, into interstate commerce and one count of failing to report safety data about diabetes drug Avandia to the Food and Drug Administration. The company agreed to a fine and forfeiture of $1 billion for the criminal counts. It also agreed to pay $2 billion to resolve civil charges under the False Claims Act related to Wellbutrin, Paxil, and Avandia. Prosecutors said Glaxo was promoting depression drug Paxil for treating children even though it's not approved for that use.

"Today brings to resolution difficult, long-standing matters for (Glaxo)," CEO Andrew Witty says in a statement. "Whilst these originate in a different era for the company, they cannot and will not be ignored."

Glaxo is paying the largest amount in a health care fraud settlement in US history, according to the government. It tops big payouts in recent US settlements between Pfizer (PFE), Eli Lilly (LLY), and AstraZeneca (AZN).

Twitter: @brettchase

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