Who Else Caused the GSK Scandal?

greedThe Guardian reports that pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has admitted to horrific corporate misconduct:

The pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmithKline has been fined $3bn (£1.9bn) after admitting bribing doctors and encouraging the prescription of unsuitable antidepressants to children. Glaxo is also expected to admit failing to report safety problems with the diabetes drug Avandia in a district court in Boston on Thursday.

I am not at all reluctant to call a spade a spade, and rage against corporate greed when it takes place. I hope that the stockholders of this company share that rage, and take their investment dollars elsewhere until when and if this firm makes complete amends. At the same time, I understand that corporate misconduct does not take place in a vacuum. Corporate personnel, sales people, marketing affiliates, and centers of influence all have a hand in the misdeed.

I think the Guardian article highlights how all these parties voluntarily helped GSK perpetrate this fraud. Here are some examples I see:

Sales reps

The company encouraged sales reps in the US to mis-sell three drugs to doctors and lavished hospitality and kickbacks on those who agreed to write extra prescriptions, including trips to resorts in Bermuda, Jamaica and California.

Nobody forces sales people to mis-sell anything. If your company trains you to be unethical, you should find another job. Sales people don’t have to be dishonest to be successful.

Physician consultants

GSK also paid for articles on its drugs to appear in medical journals and “independent” doctors were hired by the company to promote the treatments, according to court documents.

Nobody forces doctors to relinquish their independence and become paid promoters for companies. If they want to become known as independent advisers, they can conduct independent studies.

Medical publishers

GSK also published an article in a medical journal that mis-stated the drug’s safety for children, despite the journal asking several times to change the wording.

Nobody forces medical publishers to publish misleading material. If they want to avoid endangering their readership, they can find another author.

Public relations personnel

Despite knowing that three trials had failed to prove its effectiveness on children, Glaxo published a report entitled “Positioning Paxil in the adolescent depression market – getting a headstart”.

Nobody forced the PR personnel for this company to promote lies. For sure, it is tough to be a whistleblower, but you have to take a stand when the health of consumers – especially children – is at stake.

Media personalities

The prosecution said the company paid $275,000 to Dr Drew Pinsky, who hosted a popular radio show, to promote the drug on his programme, in particular for unapproved uses – GSK claimed it could treat weight gain, sexual dysfunction, ADHD and bulimia. Pinsky, who had not declared his GSK income to listeners, said Wellbutrin could give women 60 orgasms a night. A study of 25 people using the drug for eight weeks was pushed by a PR firm hired by GSK, generating headlines including “Bigger than Viagra? It sounds too good to be true: a drug to help you stop smoking, stay happy and lose weight” and “Now That is a Wonder Drug”.

Nobody forced this guy to abuse his credibility. He certainly could have refused to promote any advertiser he chose.

And the physicians

The investigation also found that sales representatives set up “Operation Hustle” to promote the drug to doctors, including trips to Jamaica, Bermuda and one talk coinciding with the annual Boston Tall Ships flotilla. Speakers were paid up to $2,500 for a one-hour presentation – up to three times a day – earning far more than they did working in their surgeries.

Nobody forced these doctors to jump on the drug bandwagon. They let themselves be bought.

A lot of blame to go around

So, this sad tale is about more than corporate greed. It is also about how people both inside and outside the company let that greed run their lives. And, tragically for many, ruin their lives.

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