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Dr. Drew Pinsky paid by Glaxo to promote Wellbutrin

Radio host recommended the drug to “Loveline” listeners in the '90s

Apparently there’s a link between depression and intimacy, and not just in the physiological sense. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that popular radio and television personality Dr. Drew Pinsky had a somewhat intimate relationship with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK), the maker of antidepressant Wellbutrin, in the late ’90s.

Pinsky, who in 1999 was one of the co-hosts of radio sex-advice show “Loveline,” used his platform to discuss an affinity for Wellbutrin, according to documents disclosed this week by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in relation to a longtime probe of Glaxo’s sales and marketing practices that finally settled on Monday.

“Dr. Drew” told listeners that he prescribed the drug along with other medications to depressed patients because it “may enhance or at least not suppress sexual arousal” to the same extent as other antidepressant drugs. While this may have sounded like an attractive option for listeners at the time, what they didn’t know was that Glaxo had paid Pinsky $275,000 over the course of two payments for “services for Wellbutrin.”

In an emailed statement to the Journal Tuesday, Pinsky said that he had been hired in the late ’90s to participate in a two-year initiative discussing intimacy and depression that was funded by an educational grant by GlaxoWellcome, one of the companies that later merged to form GlaxoSmithKline. Additionally, he said that the campaign “included town hall meetings, writings and multimedia activities in conjunction with [a] patient advocacy group,” and that his “comments were consistent with my clinical experience.”

For its part, Glaxo also told the Journal that the situation with Pinsky is 13 years old and does not reflect what would be allowed at the company today. However, the pharmaceutical giant added that “[the] government has made many allegations and legal conclusions concerning Wellbutrin that GSK disputes. GSK admits, however, that during the period from January 1999 to December 2003, there were some occasions on which certain GSK sales representatives, speakers, and consultants promoted its antidepressant Wellbutrin to physicians for uses which were not FDA-approved in violation of federal law.”

Pinsky is just one of many physicians mentioned in the DOJ’s complaint against Glaxo. The complaint also accuses other doctors of accepting large sums to shill for the company.

On Monday, the U.S. unit of GSK agreed to plead guilty and pay a criminal fine of $956.8 million for marketing drugs for unapproved uses. The company admitted that it didn’t report safety data of its Avandia diabetes drug to regulators, unlawfully marketed Wellbutrin for weight loss and other purposes for which it wasn’t approved by U.S. regulators and illegally promoted Paxil for adolescents and children.

GSK also will pay $2 billion to resolve its civil liabilities with the federal government under the False Claims Act, as well as the states.

For more on Dr. Drew’s relationship with Wellbutrin, read the Wall Street Journal.

For more on Glaxo’s settlement, read the DOJ’s release.

And for more from InsideCounsel on Glaxo’s tribulations, read:

Glaxo agrees to pay $956.8 million criminal fine

Glaxo has right to sell generic Paxil

Glaxo agrees to pay $3 billion to settle marketing probes

Former Glaxo lawyer indicted again over drug probe

Glaxo GC Accused of Obstructing Investigation

Glaxo Said to Pay More Than $250 Million to Settle Avandia Death Lawsuits

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