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Sunday, May 29, 2011

GSK Australia and the Aropax Promotion


Nothing, and I mean nothing, ever ceases to amaze me when it comes to GlaxoSmithKline and Seroxat. Their ways of promoting the drug [in the early days] was a huge PR campaign that must have cost them millions of dollars. The 'a plus project' is nothing short of propaganda that promotes the use of Aropax, for those that don't know, Aropax is the brand name used in Australia for Seroxat [Known as Paxil in the US/CANADA]

I'm awaiting delivery of one of these packages, good friend of mine from down under has 5.

So, what exactly was the a plus project? Well, it's basically counselling...on the proviso that you continue taking Aropax. A carrot dangled in front of depressed people, "Hey we will give you counselling but only if you take our drug, Aropax." To make matters more easier for the patient, the starter pack comes complete with a FREE box of Aropax.

Don't you just love this company!

It's pretty difficult to research this particular promotion by GSK as all traces of it seem to have disappeared from the Internet - luckily for me, I have some pretty astute readers. I can't wait to get my hands on one of these packs, until then I can tell you that included in the box was a fold-out card providing an explanation about the project and some information about depression and Aropax, including:

Depression is not just a 'bad mood' that you can 'snap out of' when you feel like it. It is a medical illness like asthma and diabetes, which can be successfully treated in most people by using a combination of medication and counselling.

Also included as part of the fold-out card were two pre-addressed free-post registration cards. Patients who received the starter packs could use the first of these cards to register themselves on the program, provided this was authorised by their doctor. They could also register to attend a plus meetings, conducted by psychologists and 'specially trained doctors', if they mailed the second card with the barcode number of a packet of Aropax dispensed by a pharmacy, as proxy proof that they were continuing to take Aropax after they finished the starter pack.

Participants were also sent other "educational information to complement your treatment", according to the fold-out card.

The a plus project created controversy when it was revealed that the psychologists delivering the program were bound by their contracts to deliver one message – that participants should keep taking Aropax – and were otherwise not permitted to discuss drugs at all (Robotham 2002a). Robotham described the program as 'counselling with a corporate twist'.

The a plus project was part of a broader campaign promoting Aropax. Orange featured very prominently in the campaign (Robotham 2002b), functioning as a de facto logo: Australian doctors were subjected to an onslaught of orange Aropax advertisements and promotional materials. This included several orange issues of the Depression Awareness Journal, which enthusiastically promoted the project (Singh 2002; Burrows 2002).

This is not the first time Glaxo have used the prominent colour of orange to subliminally promote Aropax in Australia. Orange is the colour of the boxes of Aropax in Australia [Fig 1]

Fig 1


Back in 2002, the Sydney Herald ran a story entitled, "Sponsor's advert a happy coincidence" - the article pointed to GlaxoSmithKline Australia's donation of $200,000 to comic relief and GSK's subsequent promotion of that donation.

The Herald wrote:

Earlier this year the company took out ads in the same publications, touting its $200,000 donation to Comic Relief and announcing a fund-raising program in which its drug sales people would visit doctors dressed as clowns.

The notices bore no direct reference to Aropax, but nevertheless had an orange backdrop and they continued the smiling theme. "We're dropping in to make you smile for a very worthy cause," the company explained.

GlaxoSmithKline Australia's commercial director, Lisa Bonadonna, said the Comic Relief sponsorship was not a promotion for Aropax. The similarity between the advertisements' colours and copy was "completely unintentional".

Some coincidence doncha think?

Another point of interest regarding the a plus project was that it was promoted by the Depression Awareness  journal. The Editor in Chief of that journal was none other than Graham Burrows, remember him?

Burrows has recently come under fire in Australia, in fact Victorian Liberal senator, Julian McGauran, has called for his resignation.

Burrows had testified at a trial that a man [Arthur Freeman] had a "major despondent disorder" - Freeman had thrown his four year old child off a bridge and Burrows was diagnosing him 14 months AFTER he killed his daughter! [LINK]

It is Burrows that also supports Patrick McGorry's Australian sideshow 'The early intervention program' [How cute, two peas in a pod]

The only reference to the APlus program I can find is the 2002 article from The Age where Julie Robotham writes:

It's counselling with a corporate twist. The maker of a leading antidepressant is funding therapy sessions for patients.

But the psychologists running the program are committed to delivering one message - keep taking the tablets.

People using Aropax, the second most commonly used antidepressant in Australia, can be signed up for the program, dubbed "APlus", by their doctor. They may then attend five 90-minute sessions of cognitive behaviour therapy over two months, in groups of up to 14 other patients.

The drug's maker, GlaxoSmithKline, has recruited psychologists, psychiatrists and GPs to run the sessions across Australia. In their contract, they must agree that "Adherence to (Aropax) is to be encouraged at all times".

Beyond this, the group leaders may not discuss drugs at all. Under the heading of "Non-interference", the contract states: "APlus practitioners are not permitted to discuss pharmacotherapy issues with patients in their care." Instead they must refer patients back to their doctors.

Once I receive the starter pack I shall scan and upload to this blog. Regular readers can rest assured, I won't be taking any of the free Aropax supplied with the pack.




References

Burrows, Graham D. (2002a, June). From the Editor in Chief. Depression Awareness Journal, 11, inside front cover.

Robotham, Julie. (2002a, January 17). Depression therapy for free, but stay on the pills. Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au/news/0201/17/national/national1.html (19 February 2003).

Robotham, Julie. (2002b, January 17). Firm binds therapy doctors to its drugs. The Age. http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/2002/01/17/FFX2ASODIWC.html (18 January 2002).

Singh, Bruce. (2002, June). The a plus project: A partnership in action. Depression Awareness Journal, 11, pp. 8-11.


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