Lilly faces Prozac lawsuit — (The Indianapolis Star)

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The Indianapolis Star (IN)

September 18, 2001

Author: JEFF SWIATEK STAFF WRITER

The expiration of Prozac ‘s patent hasn’t meant the end of new wrongful-death lawsuits for Eli Lilly and Co. The Indianapolis-based drugmaker was sued late last week in federal court in South Carolina over the 1999 suicide of a 16-year-old boy who was prescribed Prozac.  Plaintiffs Wayne and Laurie Lown of West Cola, S.C., charge that Lilly is responsible for their son, Jeremy, hanging himself. He suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological condition not normally treated with Prozac, the lawsuit said.

It is the first Prozac wrongful-death lawsuit to be filed since Prozac ‘s protective patent expired last month, opening the door to competition from generics. The cheaper look-alikes are expected to grab 80 percent of Prozac ‘s more than $2 billion in annual U.S. sales by the middle of next year. One of the attorneys in the lawsuit, Andy Vickery, is a previous legal foe of Lilly. The South Carolina lawsuit, like most of the hundreds of other Prozac civil lawsuits Lilly has faced, charges Lilly with failing to warn patients or doctors that its antidepressant can cause some users to become violent or suicidal. “As a result of Lilly’s failure to warn, Lilly killed Jeremy A. Lown,” the lawsuit charges.

Vickery, a Houston trial lawyer, said he can’t tell if Lilly will change its defense as its former No. 1 drug fades in importance. “I don’t know whether that means that they will try to settle expediently, or fight longer and harder. One would hope that now that their days of superprofits (from Prozac) are limited, they would do the right thing and issue warnings.” During the 13 years Lilly has sold Prozac, it has steadfastly denied that the drug causes any users to become violent. A Lilly spokesman has said the patent expiration has no bearing on the company’s Prozac legal strategy. Lilly has settled more than 30 Prozac lawsuits, including 12 represented by Vickery. He has about five more Prozac lawsuits pending.

Vickery said he has warned the main manufacturer of generic Prozac, Barr Laboratories of Pomona, N.Y., that it could face similar wrongful death lawsuits unless it posts a warning about side effects of violence on the generic’s label. In a letter sent to Barr last month, Vickery urged Barr to act “in a legally and morally appropriate manner” by adding a warning about suicide to its product label. Barr Chairman Bruce Downey has said that he won’t be “intimidated” by trial lawyers into adding the warning.

Contact Jeff Swiatek at 1-317-444-6483 or via e-mail at jeff.swiatek@indystar.com

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