GlaxoSmithKline pays $3bn for illegally marketing depression drug

Doctors persuaded to prescribe drug later linked to suicide in children

New York

GlaxoSmithKline, the UK's largest drug maker, tricked and bribed doctors into prescribing children with dangerous antidepressants, it was revealed last night.

The company will pay $3bn (£1.9bn) to settle a slew of charges in the US after admitting a multi-year criminal scheme to hide unhelpful scientific evidence, manipulate articles in medical journals and lavish gifts on sympathetic doctors.

The drug at the centre of the scheme, the blockbuster pill Paxil, which is branded Seroxat in Britain, has since been banned for use by children because it can make them suicidal.

Company managers, all the way up to GSK's chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty, will have their pay and bonuses clawed back if there is any further wrongdoing, under the terms of a wide-ranging settlement with the Department of Justice.

GSK admitted illegally marketing several of its drugs for uses that had not been approved by safety regulators, and documents released by the Justice Department detailed the luxurious conferences in exotic climes where paid-for scientific speakers hyped up the conclusions of dubious academic papers.

GSK held eight "Paxil forum" events in Puerto Rico, Hawaii and California, where hundreds of doctors were treated to snorkelling, horse-riding, sailing, deep-sea fishing, balloon rides and spa treatments, and given an "honorarium" of $750 in cash. The company knew it was worth paying for these kinds of boondoggles; it monitored the doctors who attended and found they significantly increased prescriptions of Paxil in the months after the event.

Paxil, once GSK's best-selling drug, was never approved for use by children but because doctors were free to use their discretion, the company had a strong incentive to steer the medical profession to scientific studies that suggested it might be helpful to under-18s diagnosed with depression. Those studies were paid for by GSK itself. Sales reps for Paxil even called on paediatricians to highlight the studies.

The company pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the marketing of Paxil for use by children between 1999 and 2003, when it:

* failed to reveal the existence of two scientific studies that showed the drug was ineffective in treating childhood depression;

* cut out important caveats to the conclusion of a third study which suggested it may improve a small number of symptoms in children;

* over-hyped the conclusions of that study, after it was published, in marketing materials at conferences and distributed to doctors.

GSK also illegally promoted Wellbutrin, another antidepressant, for the treatment of adult impotence, obesity and attention deficit, according to its guilty plea yesterday.

James Cole, US Deputy Attorney General, said: "We are determined to stop practices that jeopardise patients' health, harm taxpayers and violate the public trust – and this historic action is a clear warning to any company that chooses to break the law."

The settlement – $1bn in criminal fines, $2bn in civil penalties – also resolved claims that GSK billed government-run healthcare plans too much for many drugs.

"Whilst these originate in a different era for the company, they cannot and will not be ignored," Sir Andrew said. "On behalf of GSK, I want to express our regret and reiterate that we have learnt from the mistakes that were made."

GSK had already set aside more than $3bn to cover the costs of the settlement, and its shares rose 1.75 per cent yesterday, more than the overall market, to reflect the end of a period of uncertainty.

The company will submit to a "corporate integrity agreement" with the US government that involves a shake-up of its remuneration plan for senior managers and executives, and reflects changes already made to sales practices. The 100 top managers in the US business and the executive board will have to set aside a portion of their annual pay for three years in case they are found to be complicit in future wrongdoing, and the company will be able to claw back up to three times their annual bonus and long-term incentive pay.

Danger Drug: suicides linked to antidepressants

Sara Carlin, 18, was a talented student who dreamt of becoming a doctor, only for her to take her own life back in 2007, a little over a year after being prescribed anti-depressants. She was found hanging in the basement of her family home in Oakville, Canada.

The country's health authorities put out warnings in 2003 and 2004 that prescribing newer antidepressants such as Paxil to teenagers could lead to behavioural changes and self-harm, but Sara brushed off her mother's attempts to warn her off such drugs, saying her doctor had said they would lift her mood.

Colin Whitfield, 56, died just two weeks after he began taking the antidepressant drug Seroxat. The retired Welsh teacher was found in the garden shed of the family home having slit his own wrists in 2002.

At the inquest the coroner said that he had "grave concerns that this is a dangerous drug that should be withdrawn until detailed national studies are undertaken."

Kathryn, Colin's wife of more than 30 years, said that she had noticed a profound change in her husband's behaviour once he started taking Seroxat, and the drug may have contributed to his unexpected suicide. "It didn't fit the picture of who he was and we have no doubt that it was the drug that caused him to do it. He was a very caring, very protective father," she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick