ecently, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a British pharmaceutical company, was found guilty of wrongful marketing and withholding information about their products. As a result, GSK must pay $3 billion over misconduct concerning the antidepressant Paxil, the antidepressant Wellbutrin and the anti-diabetic drug Avandia.
Failing to include unfavorable information about a drug is an error of omission that would affect overall sales. In the other cases, wrongful marketing means the drug company was marketing drugs for untested or unapproved uses. This is otherwise known as “off-label” use. GSK was found guilty of encouraging doctors to use their medications in ways that were not as they were intended. The first issue concerned Paxil. GSK was marketing Paxil as an antidepressant for children. It has been approved for treatment of depression in adults, but not in children. The clinical studies conducted on children and adolescents, all showed a lack of efficacy of Paxil in this age group (Mercola.com, July 2012).
Wellbutrin, another antidepressant, was illegally marketed for weight loss and to treat sexual dysfunction. While Wellbutrin is in a different class of antidepressants than Paxil, a decrease in side effects does not equate with primary indication.
Avandia, an anti-diabetic drug, entered the market in 1999. By 2007, a scientific study had “linked this drug to a 43 per cent increased risk of heart attack, and a 64 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular death compared to patients treated with other methods” (N Engl J Med, Jun 2007).
This isn’t the first time a huge drug company has been caught illegally promoting off-label uses of drugs. In 2009, Pfizer paid $2.3 billion over the same issue on four of its drugs.
Does this conduct from these huge drug companies shake our trust in the Big Pharma orchestrated medical system? Probably.
Part of the problem may be that people think marketing is forthright and based on facts. On the contrary, marketing is designed to get products and ideas sold. Facts come from research and even scientific studies can be misleading.
What is the bottom line? Doctors are permitted to prescribe drugs as they see fit but suppliers are not allowed to advertise off-label, or unapproved, uses. Ultimately, when your doctor makes a recommendation and hands you a prescription, you at that point choose to accept it, dismiss it or hold an “I’m not sure yet” stance.
Perhaps you may find the motivation to gather more information about a given treatment. It might not be easy, but we would hope our trusted physician has already done this for us and is ethical enough not to be swayed by marketing tactics. So, let this event act as a reminder to everyone to take an active role in our health and seek less hazardous interventions if possible.