BEHIND THE HEADLINES: gsk faces attack over Prozac/Seroxat drug

Hailed as a 'wonder drug' for millions, the anti-depressant Prozac,

and its British sister Seroxat, came under fierce attack on Monday in

The Guardian, following disclosure of research alleging that thousands

of patients are becoming hooked.

Dr David Healy, a leading psychologist and expert on anti-depressants,

discovered studies from the 1980s in archives that appeared to show

healthy volunteers suffering withdrawal symptoms. He claimed that the

then leading manufacturer of the SSRI (selective serontonin re-uptake

inhibitor) drug Seroxat, SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline) had

failed to warn of the risks.

Monday's article was the latest of several Guardian items criticising

the drug in the past three weeks. Last week's US court order for gsk to

pay pounds 4.6m to a family of man who killed his wife and granddaughter

and then himself after taking Seroxat for two days, featured prominently

in Monday's story.

Healy's findings - The Guardian claimed - fuelled the allegation that

the SSRI family of drugs can cause severe side affects in patients, and

that the companies making the drugs were shielding the truth

But the story was flawed, according to gsk, which fielded 'a number' of

queries from journalists after The Guardian's story.

'Dr Healy offered no new data. Withdrawal and addiction are different

conditions that have to be examined separately to be understood,' said

gsk spokesman Alan Chandler.

He said that in April 2000, the European Committee for Proprietors of

Medicinal Products, and the Medicine Control Agency reviewed the safety

of SSRIs and concluded that the drugs did not cause dependency. He said

the lack of fresh data ensured The Guardian's story was not followed up

by any media reviewed by gsk the next day.

'Only a few of our 70 million users worldwide suffered withdrawal and we

fielded calls from journalists to clear up the confusion,' added


The story received a mixed reaction from other sources. Margaret

Edwards, strategy head at mental health charity SANE, said prescribing

doctors were responsible for advising patients about possible side


'Drug companies should report openly any findings. SANE believes such

damaging findings should not mean people are deprived of any new drugs

that might save their lives,' added Edwards.

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