In the 1970s, when it first developed Paxil as an antidepressant, GlaxoSmithKline (then SmithKline Beecham) was so unimpressed by the results that it considered shelving the drug.
But in 2000, the year after Paxil received FDA approval to treat social anxiety disorder, GSK spent $92 million pushing Paxil as the remedy—almost $3 million more on advertising than Pfizer spent that year on Viagra.
Paid consultants (some receiving fees from up to 17 different drug companies) were prepared to say that almost one American in five experiences social anxiety disorder in particular, and nearly one-third of the country suffers from some form of anxiety disorder.
That first figure was based on a study involving randomized telephone calls to 526 urban Canadians. Their self-reported levels of social anxiety resulted in percentages ranging from 1.9% to 18.7%. The higher figure was widely reported in subsequent literature, as a claim about the likely social anxiety prevalence rates in the U.S overall.
GSK has spent over $165 million in class action lawsuits since Paxil received FDA approval in March 1999 (Business News, March 28, 2006; Washington Drug Letter, April 3, 2006).
GSK continues to call the drug “safe and well-tolerated,” even after acknowledging, in a confidential memo quoted in Shyness, that one-in-five patients suffers mild-to-serious side effects from Paxil.
Information about some of those side effects was withheld from the public.
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