July 6, 2012
In Settling Fraud Allegations with U.S. Prosecutors, GlaxoSmithKline Admits To Using a "Network of Paid Experts" To Promote Unapproved Drugs — Now, Addiction-Focused TV and Radio Host Dr. Drew Pinsky Faces Charges Of Shilling Company's Drugs For a Big Fee
One of the revelations of pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline's settlement of various fraud charges with the U.S. government this week was that "celebrity physician" Dr. Drew Pinsky received a total of $275,000 over two months in 1999 to deliver messages about Wellbutrin, a Glaxo antidepressant, "in settings where it did not appear that Dr. Pinsky was speaking for GSK," according to a Forbes report — even though Pinsky told CBS News everything he said was in accordance with the law and accurate according to his medical experience. The Wall Street Journal reported in June 1999 that Pinsky made statements on "Loveline," a television and radio show he co-hosted, saying that he prescribed Wellbutrin to depressed patients because it "may enhance or at least not suppress sexual arousal" as much as other antidepressants are known to do, CBS reports. Pinsky was also reported to have made comments on other media, Forbes added. In both instances, he did not disclose that he was paid by the company to do so, and he promoted uses of Wellbutrin that had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The payments, made by a communications firm working for Glaxo, were revealed in an attachment to a complaint the U.S. government filed in October 2011 in federal court in the District of Massachusetts. The documents were disclosed this week as the U.S. Justice Department announced a $3 billion criminal and civil settlement with Glaxo over illegal drug marketing and other matters. In its complaint, the DOJ included invoices from a PR firm working on Pinsky's behalf to Glaxo for his drug-pushing services, and the firm made a note to Glaxo that "Dr. Pinsky communicated key campaign messages" during his appearance, The Consumerist reports.
Pinsky — a board-certified internist, addiction medicine specialist, and radio and television personality — responded to the complaint. "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," Pinsky told HealthPop in a statement. "Services for the non-branded campaign included town hall meetings, writings and multimedia activities in conjunction with the patient advocacy group the National Depresive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA). My comments were consistent with my clinical experience," he said, CBS News reports.
The complaint against Glaxo followed a nine-year investigation of the company's marketing practices, and led to the settlement announced this week. As part of the deal, Glaxo is pleading guilty to criminal charges related to illegal drug marketing and failing to report important drug-safety data to the FDA. The $3 billion fine will also settle the government's civil claims against Glaxo, including allegations that the company plied doctors with cash and lavish trips to resorts to get them to promote Glaxo drugs for uses beyond those specified in the drugs' FDA-approved prescribing labels, WSJ.com reports.