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By Helen Altonn, Star-Bulletin
A family that suffered a murder-suicide sues the maker of the drug
The role of Prozac in a Maui murder-suicide case five years ago will be argued in Honolulu’s federal court June 2. The antidepressant drug has been blamed for violence in other lawsuits, but few have made it to trial, said William J. Downey III, Los Angeles attorney for plaintiffs in the Maui case.
He said William Forsyth Sr. stabbed his wife, June, 15 times on March 4, 1993, in their Kaanapali Hillside home then propped a kitchen knife on a stool and killed himself. He had been taking Prozac two weeks for depression, Downey said.
William D. Forsyth Jr., a Lahaina charter boat captain, and his sister, Susan, of Los Angeles, filed suit in March 1995 against Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly & Co.
They’re seeking more than $1 million in damages for the deaths of their parents, and they want a warning label included with Prozac.
Eli Lilly failed to warn about Prozac’s life-threatening side effects, including possibility of suicide and violent behavior, the lawsuit alleges.
In a 31-page opinion Monday, Hawaii’s Chief U.S. District Court Judge Alan C. Kay rejected the company’s attempts to dismiss wrongful death claims for suicides caused by taking the drug.
Kay noted a study of 172,598 subjects showing Prozac had a suicide rate more than double that of other antidepressants. He ruled there was sufficient evidence to allow trial on all the plaintiffs’ claims before a federal jury.
The judge said evidence indicates “Lilly may have acted wantonly, oppressively, or with such malice as implies a spirit of mischief or criminal indifference.”
Eli Lilly told the court the Forsyths relied on “junk science.”
Lilly spokesman Edward West today said by telephone from the company’s Indianapolis headquarters, “There is a clear consensus opinion among the scientific community that there is no causal link between use of antidepressant drugs, including Prozac, and suicidality or violent behavior.”
West said a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee in 1991 unanimously agreed there was no evidence of such a link.
In December 1996, he said, the Harvard Mental Health Letter concluded: “Despite some sensational reports there is no evidence that Prozac or other SSRIs (a class of antidepressant drugs) increased the risk of a suicide attempt.”
West said Prozac has been prescribed for more than 30 million patients worldwide and is the world’s largest selling antidepressant.
The Forsyths presented evidence indicating Lilly “may have deliberately suppressed unfavorable clinical studies, falsified clinical trials and deliberately failed to report adverse events to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”
In a telephone interview today, Downey said the senior Forsyth “had no history of violence or suicidal thoughts or actions. “This is a guy who was a successful (retired) businessman, well loved, active in the church and society,” said Downey, of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Guilford & Downey.
Downey said another Prozac trial is scheduled in Oklahoma next month, and one case was tried in Kentucky a few years ago and lost.
“Apparently all other cases were settled or have been dismissed,” Downey said.
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Decision in family’s lawsuit against Prozac rests with jury. The family blames the popular antidepressant for a murder-suicide; the company says a ‘powerful disease’ is the culprit — (Honalulu Star-Bulletin)
By Lori Tighe
Thursday, April 1, 1999
A jury now must decide if it believes a Maui family or a pharmaceutical giant in a lawsuit blaming a murder-suicide on the antidepressant drug Prozac. William Sr. and June Forsyth died in a grisly murder-suicide on Maui in 1993. Yesterday, their children didn’t ask the jury for a specific settlement in closing arguments — they said the verdict is more important.
“If we get a verdict in this trial it will affect the whole pharmaceutical industry,” said William Forsyth Jr., 34, a Lahaina charter boat captain. “It’s the only thing that will rattle this company.”
His sister, Susan Forsyth, 34, a property manager who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., added,”That’s what we want, change.”
Eli Lilly, maker of the world’s most-prescribed antidepressant drug Prozac, has never been sued successfully over a Prozac-related suicide or murder. They have settled a number of cases, and won a trial case in Kentucky a few years ago. But the Forsyths didn’t want to settle. They said after a year of discussions with Lilly to put a warning on the Prozac label failed, they decided to take the Indianapolis-based company to court.
Forsyth Jr. found the bodies of his slain parents in their Kaanapali Hillside home on March 4, 1993. His Prozac-medicated father stabbed his mother 15 times as she lay in bed, and then leaned on the knife to kill himself. “You can’t erase the memory. I can’t believe it still,” Forsyth Jr. said. “Even though Dad went suicidal, he went beyond that to our mom. That’s something we’re willing to go to court for. We don’t want someone else to suffer this.”
Lilly attorneys repeated the same statement in their closing argument as they have done throughout the month-long trial: “This case is about a good drug and a very bad, powerful disease.” The company’s attorney, Andrew See, blamed the Forsyths’ tragedy on three “trigger factors:” Forsyth Sr.’s major depressive episode; hopelessness, and his discharge from a mental hospital not feeling any better than when he entered. Forsyth also felt dependent on his wife, yet trapped in their marriage, See said.
But the Forsyth children said they saw drastic changes in their father two days after he went on Prozac. He asked to go to the hospital, despite his own doctor’s resistance to admit him, said Forsyth Jr. “He told Castle (Hospital) he thought about knives, but they didn’t pursue it,” he said. “But when I told the doctor what happened the day I found my parents, he said it was beyond the realm of possibilities.” Lilly misled the public by not warning doctors that the drug causes violent suicidal tendencies in some people, said the Forsyths’ attorney, Andy Vickery, in closing arguments.
By law, drug companies have to warn people about the danger, especially if it relates to life and death. “Lilly knew about the danger, and failed to warn the public,” Vickery said. Lilly didn’t include a warning on Prozac’s label because the Food and Drug Administration didn’t see any link between the drug and an increased risk of suicide, See said.