Amidst the broader issues coming out about drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline “as the U.S. Justice Department announced a $3 billion criminal and civil settlement with Glaxo over illegal drug marketing and other matters,” the Wall Street Journal reports:
In June 1999, popular radio personality Dr. Drew Pinsky used the airwaves to extol the virtues of GlaxoSmithKline’s antidepressant Wellbutrin, telling listeners he prescribes it and other medications to depressed patients because it “may enhance or at least not suppress sexual arousal” as much as other antidepressants do.
But one thing listeners didn’t know was that, two months before the program aired, Dr. Pinsky—who gained fame as “Dr. Drew” during years co-hosting a popular radio sex-advice show “Loveline”—received the second of two payments from Glaxo totaling $275,000 for “services for Wellbutrin.”
Philly.com, in its story headlined “GlaxoSmithKline, Dr. Drew, sex advice and Wellbutrin,” reported:
“Wellbutrin was only approved to treat depression in adults, but the government alleged that Glaxo sales representatives and other company officials made great efforts to illegally promote the drug for many other problems, including sexual dysfunction.
In some ways, Glaxo was trying to make a great circular argument: Depression can cause sexual dysfunction, and vice versa, so take Wellbutrin, either way.”
The story also says a Glaxo sales exec told drug reps:
“We need to let physicians know that Wellbutrin SR is the ‘Happy, Horny, Skinny drug….” “
According to the transcript (or a radio show featuring Dr.Drew), the show began with a clip from a woman who said she had 60 orgasms in a row, “just nonstop.” When asked if this was even possible, Pinsky replied, “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.” He then segues into saying that that is what he is on the show to talk about. Soon he’s talking about how Wellbutrin (he also mentions the generic name, bupropion) is the medicine he’s had the most experience with in his practice when it comes to avoiding the sexual side effects of antidepressants. “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.”
A note from the PR firm accompanying the transcript says: “During the fifteen-minute segment, Dr. Pinsky communicated key campaign messages.” The spot is almost a textbook for the way drug companies have used speakers to promote medicines. Everything Pinksy says is reasonable – anecdotally, Wellbutrin does seem to have few sexual side effects. But Pinsky’s comments has the effect of giving air time to a use of a medicine that Glaxo was not supposed to promote.
Dr. Drew wasn’t alone. He’s one of a long list of experts listed in the complaint that the government says were paid by Glaxo as part of its promotional efforts.
(Home page Featured Story screenshot from FoxNews.com story)
Addendum: Ford Vox wrote, “Sunshine Falls on Dr. Drew: A CNN Host Admits Taking $275,000 in Kickbacks from GlaxoSmithKline” on The Atlantic website.