GlaxoSmithKline Fined For Promoting Dangerous Pharmaceuticals

In our last post we discussed a recent landmark settlement between drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline and the Department of Justice. Federal prosecutors accused the health care giant of promoting the antidepressant Paxil to teenagers despite little evidence that the drug was effective in treating individuals under age 18. Warnings on the drug’s label now indicate that individuals under the age of 24 are at risk for experiencing suicidal thoughts and a host of other serious side effects when taking Paxil.

Federal prosecutors also allege that GlaxoSmithKline promoted the use of the antidepressant drug Wellbutrin for unapproved off-label uses such as weight loss, substance addiction, ADHD and the treatment of sexual dysfunction. Possible side effects of Wellbutrin include seizures, paranoia, swelling, difficulty breathing and irregular heartbeats, among other things. It is unclear how many pharmaceutical liability lawsuits have been filed by patients who were injured after taking Wellbutrin.

The third drug that was illegally promoted by GlaxoSmithKline is called Avandia, which is used to treat diabetes. The Department of Justice alleges that the drugmaker failed to disclose the studies showing that Avandia can increase a patient’s risk of developing congestive heart failure and heart attacks.

The New York Times reports that many health policy experts believe that personal injury litigation and Justice Department fines are still not enough to deter drugmakers from endangering patients in pursuit of profits. Despite massive settlements with injured patients and government prosecutors, drug companies consistently put consumers’ health at risk by promoting drugs for off-label uses.

“What we’re learning is that money doesn’t deter corporate malfeasance,” Eliot Spitzer told the New York Times. Spitzer sued GlaxoSmithKline in 2004 for the illegal promotion of Paxil. “The only thing that will work in my view is CEO’s and officials being forced to resign and individual culpability being enforced.”