This past week the U.S. Justice Department reached a “$3 billion criminal and civil settlement with Glaxo over illegal drug marketing and other matters,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

‘Dr. Drew’ Was Paid by Glaxo

Radio Host Extolled Virtues of Antidepressant After Attending Events for Firm

In June 1999, popular radio personality Dr. Drew Pinsky used the airwaves to extol the virtues of GlaxoSmithKline PLC’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.”

While “it is illegal for pharmaceutical companies to promote drugs for uses not approved by the FDA, a practice known as ‘off-label’ marketing,” it’s not illegal for doctors to do it of their own accord. In his defense, Pinsky told CBS News:

“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 . . . 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.”

That’s your textbook non-denial denial. Pinsky may have missed his true calling. Time to change his name to Spin Dr. Drew?


John Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is a media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University.
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