Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial

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Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Side Effects is long-form journalism at its best."—Washington Post

“Engrossing.”--NY Review of Books

Washington Post
"Side Effects is long-form journalism at its best."—Washington Post
New York Review of Books
“Engrossing.”—NY Review of Books
Washington Post

"Side Effects is long-form journalism at its best."—Washington Post

New York Review of Books

“Engrossing.”--NY Review of Books

Susan P. Williams
Bass evokes sympathy for many players in this story. Her narrative bristles with data without fraying into tedium. And she underlines the gravity of hiding patients' injuries. Side Effects is long-form journalism at its best.
—The Washington Post
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)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Heated account of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline's troubles when the company was discovered concealing evidence that suicidal thoughts occurred as a rare side effect of its popular antidepressant Paxil. Boston Globe science journalist Bass begins her account with the horrifying saga of a painfully shy teenager whose Paxil prescription prompted sleeplessness, agitation, episodes of self-cutting and a suicide attempt. Introduced in the 1980s and '90s, new psychoactive drugs like Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft helped many depressed patients, the author emphasizes, but reports of troubling side effects were not welcomed by the manufacturers of these wildly profitable medications. Displaying an unfortunate fondness for invented dialogue and passionate internal monologues by leading characters, Bass introduces her heroes and villains. Dressed in white: an idealistic lawyer in the New York State Attorney General's office, which filed suit against GlaxoSmithKline in 2004; a struggling hospital official who learned that a powerful researcher was collecting money for nonexistent studies; and a brilliant psychiatrist who found suicidal ideation among patients taking Prozac, only to have his findings dismissed by the FDA. Dressed in black: pharmaceutical company scientists and lawyers, as well as psychiatrists whose income from the companies clearly influenced their prescribing habits and their eagerness to interpret questionable research results as favorable to a drug. Bass has little good to say about the FDA, starved of funds by Congress but encouraged to charge "user fees" to speed up new drug approval. Providing more than half the FDA's drug-review budget, these fees inevitably distorted theapproval process. Rather than go to trial, GlaxoSmithKline settled, agreeing to post descriptions of all studies (not just those with positive results) on the Internet. Other companies agreed to do the same, and leading medical journals unanimously adopted guidelines requiring full disclosure in submitted research papers. Congress declined to provide the FDA more money, yet allowed it to raise user's fees, thereby perpetuating a corrupt process. Despite the irritating lapses into docudrama, a substantive examination of an important issue. Agent: James Levine/Levine Greenberg Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565125537
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 6/17/2008
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Alison Bass has covered medicine, science, and technology for the Boston Globe and other publications, including the Miami Herald, Psychology Today, and Technology Review. She has received top media awards from the National Mental Health Association and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and an Associated Press First Place Award. She has taught journalism courses at Boston and Brandeis universities and lives in Newton, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents


Author's Note     vii
Prologue: 2004     1
Martin Teicher and the Wonder Drugs, 1988-89     7
Rose Firestein v. New York City, 1989     15
Donna Howard's Quest to Help Her Adopted Daughter, 1990     23
The Empire Strikes Back, September 1991     29
Rose Firestein's Big Gamble: Suing the Pharmaceutical Industry, June 2004     47
The Brown Connection, 1995     57
Donna Howard Talks to the Press and Becomes a Pariah, January 1996     73
The Humiliation of Martin Teicher, October 1996     79
Eliot Spitzer's Crusaders Win Round One against GlaxoSmithKline but Get Knocked Off Course in Round Two, July 2004     91
A Tale of Two Psychiatrists Named Martin, Spring 1998     103
Tonya Brooks Becomes a Nomad, and Rose Firestein Fights to Protect Florida's Foster Children, 2000-2001     117
Donna Howard Discovers That in the Nonprofit World of Patient Advocacy, Money Shouts, Fall 2002     125
Rose Firestein Begins Probing the Paxil Puzzle, Summer 2003     137
Rose Firestein's Epiphany, Winter 2004     153
How Rose Firestein Found the Smoking Gun Memo and Converted the Skeptics, Spring 2004     165
The New York AG v. GlaxoSmithKline, June 2004     179
Wherein Rose Firestein Goes to Court and Annoys aFederal Judge, July 2004     187
GlaxoSmithKline Comes to the Table, August 2004     197
Martin Teicher Is Vindicated, and Rose Firestein Takes a Bow, Fall 2004     207
Epilogue: Rose Firestein Gets Run Over and Survives, and Donna Howard Turns Out to Have Been Right All Along     221
Acknowledgments     237
Notes     239
Index     253
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