Lawsuit reveals Dr. Drew was paid spokesman for antidepressant maker

by Heygood Orr and Pearson

A lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has revealed that celebrity physician Dr. Drew Pinsky received thousands of dollars to act as a spokesman for the company’s antidepressant, Wellbutrin SR. GSK recently agreed to pay $3 billion to settle Justice Department claims that it illegally marketed Wellbutrin SR and another antidepressant, Paxil, including payments made to doctors to promote the drugs for off-label use.

Pinsky—known popularly as Dr. Drew—has been the host of several television programs, including VH1’s Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew on HLN and Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers on the CW. At the time he was being paid by GSK, Pinsky was the host of the radio show Loveline.

According to the complaint against GSK, Pinsky was paid $275,000 in March and April 1999 to appear on a national radio program and make other speaking appearances. During this time, he promoted Wellbutrin as having fewer sexual side effects than other antidepressants—despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration had not approved these claims about the drug.

The Department of Justice said in its lawsuit that these paid speaking appearances on behalf of the drugmaker occurred “in settings where it did not appear that Dr. Pinsky was speaking for GSK.” Although Pinsky has claimed that his statements about Wellbutrin were based on his clinical experience as a psychologist, a note from a GSK’s PR firm included with a transcript of the radio program stated that “during the fifteen minute segment, Dr. Pinsky communicated key campaign messages” about Wellbutrin.