Drugs wrongly sold to treat young people

The pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been fined $3bn (£1.9bn) after admitting bribing doctors and encouraging the prescription of unsuitable antidepressants to children, reports the Guardian.

GSK encouraged sales reps in the US to mis-sell three drugs to doctors and lavished hospitality on those who agreed to write extra prescriptions.

The company admitted corporate misconduct over the antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin and asthma drug Advair. Paxil – which was approved only for adults – was promoted as suitable for children and teenagers by the company despite trials that showed it was ineffective, according to prosecutors.

According to the Guardian report, doctors and their partners were flown to five-star hotels in Bermuda, Jamaica and California where speakers, paid up to $2,500 to attend, gave presentations on the drugs. 

GSK also paid for articles to appear in medical journals and ‘independent’ doctors were hired by the company to promote the treatments, says the report.

Professor Peter Kinderman from the University of Liverpool, a former chair of the Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology, comments:

"In my view these are inexcusable crimes. Bribing people to prescribe inappropriate - powerful, dangerous, potentially lethal - drugs to children is unforgivable. 

“We all need to respond to children in distress. And our medical colleagues have their part to play. But the behaviour of GlaxoSmithKline is extremely serious. People, children, suffer as a result of these actions and the people responsible must face the consequences. 

“I have to say, this also flags up how a biomedical approach to children's distress can be unhelpful – how the profit motives of some commercial organisations can dovetail with clinical practice. We need to respond to children who are unhappy and need help. We need to understand their problems and respond with common-sense, humane solutions. We don't really need to diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication. We can see how big pharmaceutical companies make profit from that approach to well-being.

“But that shouldn't distract us from the illegality of GlaxoSmithKline's behaviour. Real people have suffered. This should not be allowed to happen again."