Ghostwriters Pushed Paxil

The unfolding story of how the big drug makers use ghostwriters to compose articles for insertion in medical journals–signed by hired doctors who have nothing to do with the writing–just gets worse and worse. Now we have the case of the anti-depressant Paxil.

I have some personal experience on this front. Several years ago, I went to a psychiatrist–or rather, one of the pill-prescribers who are now known as psychopharmacologists. His diagnosis technique consisted of giving me a list of 10 questions:  Do you wake up in the morning feeling blue? Do you feel tired a lot of the time? Have trouble sleeping? Ever think about suicide? Tallying up the answers, he grinned at me and said, “You’ve got seven out of ten.” Then he reached into a cabinet, rummaged around, and came out with a few trial packages of Paxil. “Here,” he said, tossing them to me, “try this.” After a couple of years on Paxil, after experiencing a big weight gain and feeling blotto half the time, I tried to get off and immediately was plunged into a nightmare withdrawal.

My reaction was apparently mild compared to what others have gone through. Paxil is now notorious for its withdrawal symptoms, and GlaxoSmithKline was sued for suppressing the results of its own study showing that Paxil increased the suicide risk in children. So what convinced this doc to prescribe Paxil as his first course of treatment? Here lies at least part of the answer. The Associated Press reports on how GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C., the big drug maker, employed ghostwriters to promote the Paxil.

An internal company memo instructs salespeople to approach physicians and offer to help them write and publish articles about their positive experiences prescribing the drug….

The document was uncovered by the Baum Hedlund  law firm of Los Angeles, which is representing hundreds of former Paxil users in personal-injury and wrongful-death suits against Glaxo. The firm alleges the company downplayed several risks connected with its drug, including increased suicidal behavior and birth defects.

A spokeswoman for London-based Glaxo said the published articles noted any assistance to the main authors.”The program was not heavily used and was discontinued a number of years ago,” said Mary Anne Rhyne.

According to the memo, which dates from April 2000, the program was designed to “strengthen the product positioning and overcome competitive issues.”

At the time, Paxil was competing with antidepressant blockbusters from Eli Lilly & Co. (Prozac) and Pfizer Inc. (Zoloft). Paxil has since lost its patent protection and competes against cheaper generic versions. Sales of Paxil last year totaled $849 million.

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