WASHINGTON - Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C. used a sophisticated ghostwriting program to promote its antidepressant Paxil, letting doctors take credit for medical-journal articles mainly written by company consultants, according to court documents obtained by the Associated Press.

Glaxo has major operations in the Philadelphia area.

An internal company memo instructs salespeople to approach physicians and offer to help them write and publish articles about their positive experiences prescribing the drug.

The paper explains how the company can help physicians with everything from "developing a topic" to "submitting the manuscript for publication."

The document was uncovered by the Baum Hedlund P.C. law firm of Los Angeles, which is representing hundreds of former Paxil users in personal-injury and wrongful-death suits against Glaxo. The firm alleges the company downplayed several risks connected with its drug, including increased suicidal behavior and birth defects.

A spokeswoman for London-based Glaxo said the published articles noted any assistance to the main authors.

"The program was not heavily used and was discontinued a number of years ago," said Mary Anne Rhyne.

According to the memo, which dates from April 2000, the program was designed to "strengthen the product positioning and overcome competitive issues."

At the time, Paxil was competing with antidepressant blockbusters from Eli Lilly & Co. (Prozac) and Pfizer Inc. (Zoloft). Paxil has since lost its patent protection and competes against cheaper generic versions. Sales of Paxil last year totaled $849 million.

Drugmakers frequently hire outside firms to draft a manuscript touting a company's drug, and then retain a physician to sign off as the author.