So let’s say there is a supplement company selling a weight loss product that has ephedra in it. Ephedra, as you may know, was banned by the FDA in 2004 due to a high rate of serious side effects and ephedra-related deaths. Now let’s say that said supplement company, full well knowing the adverse health risk of ephedra, goes ahead to manufacture and sell this product to the public anyway. Should this company be held liable for any harm done to the public health? Should they be fined, punished, or shut down? What are the necessary measures to be taken to assure this doesn’t happen again?

If you believe that the supplement company acted out of negligence and greed, and compromised public health, then you probably also believe that the company should be punished to the full extent possible. Now what if it wasn’t a supplement company at all, but a pharmaceutical manufacturer instead. And let’s say the compound in question wasn’t ephedra but Paxil, the popular antidepressant, what would you say then?

Well that’s exactly what happened to ephedra–can anyone say Metabolife?–and it’s happening now with Paxil. In the Metabolife fiasco, Metabolife International Inc. the manufacturer of Metabolife 356, at its height a several hundred million dollar a year product, pled guilty to filing fraudulent tax returns and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $600,000, and more than a billion dollars in personal injury claims. Along with the banning of its most popular product, the monetary penalties buried the company which filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

So what will happen to GlaxoSmithKline PLC, makers of the mega best-selling antidepressant Paxil, which was the fifth-most prescribed antidepressant in the United States as early as 2006? A U.S. Department of Justice investigation is being conducted into whether the drug maker withheld data about the suicide risks of Paxil. Just another day at the office for antidepressant manufacturers. I’ve already reported on this and similar stories in earlier posts (and here, and here)–seems to be par the course with these massive money making meds. According to recent reports, the Justice Department is looking into GlaxoSmithKline’s marketing practices, pushing their product despite having information that the antidepressant increased the risk of suicidal tendencies in its takers.

So what will happen to GlaxoSmithKline? My guess, probably not much. They’ll fight the allegations professing the high road. They’ll lie and say they didn’t know about the risks. And when they eventually found out, they’ll say, they then took appropriate measures. I mean, what else could they possibly say? They’ll get slapped with a fine and warning. For a multi million dollar company like Metabolife that might cause ruin. But for a multi billion dollar company like Glaxo, well…it won’t do much. And I’m sure GlaxoSmithKline will be just fine. They’ll go on, business as usual.

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