Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial
As the mental health reporter for the Boston Globe, Alison Bass’s front-page reporting on conflicts of interest in medical research stunned readers, and her series on sexual misconduct among psychiatrists earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Now she turns her investigative skills to a controversial case that exposed the increased suicide rates among adolescents taking antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.
Side Effects tells the tale of a gutsy assistant attorney general who, along with an unlikely whistle-blower at an Ivy League university, uncovered evidence of deception behind one of the most successful drug campaigns in history. Paxil was the world’s bestselling antidepressant in 2002. Pediatric prescriptions soared, even though there was no proof that the drug performed any better than sugar pills in treating children and adolescents, and the real risks the drugs posed were withheld from the public. The New York State Attorney General’s office brought an unprecedented lawsuit against giant manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil, for consumer fraud. The successful suit launched a tidal wave of protest that changed the way drugs are tested, sold, and marketed in this country.
With meticulous research, Alison Bass shows us the underbelly of the pharmaceutical industry. She lays bare the unhealthy ties between the medical establishment, big pharma, and the FDA—relationships that place vulnerable children and adults at risk every day.
About the Author
- Hardcover: 260 pages
- Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (June 17, 2008)
From Publishers Weekly
This densely researched report adds to the growing literature on Big Pharma’s efforts to sell blockbuster drugs and with its two crusading heroes seems ready for Hollywood. Expanding on her reporting for the Boston Globe, Bass focuses on psychiatrist Martin Teicher, who as early as 1988 noticed that the antidepressant Prozac seemed paradoxically to cause suicidal thoughts in his patients, and the nearly blind Rose Firestein, a lawyer in the New York State attorney general’s office who was investigating the inappropriate marketing and use of Paxil for unapproved purposes. Drug companies insisted there was no scientific evidence whatsoever linking GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil, Ely Lilly’s Prozac and other serotonin-increasing antidepressants to suicidal thoughts and behavior, and Bass describes the dogged battle to show that company researchers had deliberately suppressed the results of trials with negative outcomes. Bass also follows the story of Tonya Brooks, an unhappy teenager who attempted suicide while taking Paxil. Although the story sometimes gets lost in the details of then attorney general Eliot Spitzer’s 2004 suit against GlaxoSmithKline (eventually settled for $2.5 million), this story of determined do-gooders is inspiring. (June)
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Science journalist Bass gives us a book with a bonus. The book is about a conscientious whistle blower and a feisty New York State assistant attorney general who believed something about the promotion of the billion-dollar antidepressant Paxil stank. Individually, they didn’t know exactly what was wrong with the way the manufacturer, then SmithKline Beecham, was promoting the drug, but together they exposed a cover-up involving everyone from drug company executives to so-called independent researchers to medical journals and even the FDA. The conspiracy concealed negative side effects from physicians who, in good faith, prescribed Paxil, which ultimately exacerbated the conditions of already severely depressed patents, which led some of them to suicide. The bonus is an important caveat, a warning that, when only positive clinical test results are reported, there is much to be gained by too many greedy people, and that passing medical journal and FDA muster may not guarantee that critical information hasn’t slipped through the cracks in a flawed system. –Donna Chavez
“Side Effects is long-form journalism at its best.”—Washington Post
“Engrossing.”–NY Review of Books
“Side Effects is a serious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, clinical researchers, and government regulators, told in captivating prose. It makes you worry about the authenticity of the evidence that doctors use from day to day.” — Dr. Jerome Kassirer, Distinguished Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, former Editor-in-Chief of New England Journal of Medicine, and author of On the Take: How Medicine’s Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
As the mental health reporter for the Boston Globe, Alison Bass’s front-page reporting on conflicts of interest in medical research stunned readers, and her series on sexual misconduct among psychiatrists earned her a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Now she turns her investigative skills to a landmark case that exposed increased suicide rates among adolescents taking popular antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.
In Side Effects we meet a courageous Ivy League university employee who risked her job to expose suspicious practices at her lab, a feisty assistant attorney general who spearheaded an unprecedented lawsuit against a pharmaceutical giant, plus the medical researchers who were being paid by the drug companies whose products they were testing. And Bass introduces us to the vulnerable children and adults placed at risk because of greed, corruption, and negligence.
Though pediatric prescriptions of Paxilat the time one of the world’s bestselling antidepressantswere soaring, there was no hard proof that the drug performed any better than sugar pills in children and adolescents. Bass reveals how data from drug trials and the suicide risk the drug posed were withheld, allowing GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil, to mislead physicians and consumers about the safety and efficacy of the drug.
When the New York State attorney general’s office brought its lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline for consumer fraud, it launched a tidal wave of protest. As a result of this case, drug companies agreed to publish negative results from their research studies. A congressional investigation into industry practices finally prompted the FDA to mandate strict warnings for all antidepressants.
In the tradition of A Civil Action, Side Effects goes behind the scenes of the headline-making case that forced the government to start protecting its citizens. It lays bare the unhealthy state of our country’s pharmaceutical industry.