GlaxoSmithKline’s $3 Billion Penalty: Company Paid Dr. Drew $275,000 To Push Unapproved Drugs

The case that led GlaxoSmithKline to plead guilty and pay $3 billion involved the pharmaceutical giant paying experts like celebrity physician Dr. Drew Pinsky to push drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

U.S. prosecutors announced the decision Monday in what amounts to the in the largest settlement of health care fraud in U.S. history, CBS News reported. GlaxoSmithKline’s settlement resolved criminal and civil liability from the company’s unlawful promoting of certain drugs.

Forbes is reporting that some of that promotion came from the company’s network of paid experts, which included Dr. Drew. The host of Loveline and Celebrity Rehab was paid $275,000 over the course of two months in 1999 to deliver messages about Wellbutrin SR, an antidepressant marketed by GlaxoSmithKline.

The company used Dr. Drew to push messages that Wellbutrin could actually boost sex drive for some people taking it, documents from the U.S. attorney’s office showed. Most antidepressants have shown to decrease libido, but Wellbutrin’s package inserts list both “decreased libido” and “increased libido” as possible side effects, Forbes reported. The FDA had not granted GlaxoSmithKline approval to market Wellbutrin as having fewer sexual side effects, so the company paid experts like Dr. Drew to get this message across in settings where it would not appear he was speaking for Glaxo.

The prosecutors’ report detailed Dr. Drew’s appearance on a national radio program, David Essel – Alive!, in which he promoted the drug. After taking a call from a woman who said she had 60 orgasms in a row, Dr. Drew segued into how some medications have been known to create sexual side effects—but not Wellbutrin.

The payments went well beyond Dr. Drew. The Justice Department said that in 2003, GlaxoSmithKline funded millions of dollars of lavish meetings to doctors in exchange for them promoting Wellbutrin for off-label uses.