Critics Say Drug Made Hoffman Kill Himself — (Morning Call)

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The Morning Call

August 29, 1990


Having lived with controversy for so long, it hardly seems surprising that controversy would follow Abbie Hoffman into the grave.

The celebrated 1960s radical who died last year of a massive drug overdose that was later ruled a suicide, Hoffman was taking an anti-depressant drug called Prozac that researchers now believe may trigger self-destructive behavior.

Now critics — including an offshoot of the Church of Scientology — are claiming that Hoffman’s death may not, strictly speaking, be called a suicide.

Rather, it was a violent reaction to a prescription drug, they say.

That Hoffman was under prescription for Prozac, the brand name for the chemical compound fluoxetine hydrochloride, was confirmed yesterday by Bucks County Coroner Thomas J. Rosko.

“It was prescribed and he was taking it at or around the time of his death,” said Rosko. “The question is whether it affected his behavior.”

Rosko, who conducted Hoffman’s autopsy, ruled that the former defendant at the famed Chicago 7 conspiracy trial had died after ingesting the equivalent of 150 30-milligram tablets of phenobarbital along with a large quality of alcohol.

Hoffman was found April 12, 1989, by his landlord in the activist’s two-bedroom apartment on a former turkey farm in Solebury Township, Bucks County.

Famous also as the founder of the Yippies — or Youth International Party — and the author of a revolutionary guide called “Steal This Book,” Hoffman had moved to Bucks County in 1982 to help fight the controversial Point Pleasant water project.

Hoffman reportedly also had continued being active as a consultant to various campus radical movements around the country.

After he died, relatives noted that Hoffman had suffered periodic bouts with acute depression.

According to its manufacturer, Eli Lilly & Co. of Indianapolis, Prozac is used to treat “major depressive disorders.”

Questions on the drug arose in February after an article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry charged that Prozac produced “strong obsessive suicidal thoughts” in some mental patients.

The drug, which until then had been hailed as a miracle of psychiatric medicine, was said by a group of Harvard University research scientists to produce self-destructive desires in about 3.5 percent of all patients who used it.

This was followed by several lawsuits citing the article and claiming that Eli Lilly had failed to properly test the drug prior to its release in 1988. At least six lawsuits have been filed seeking punitive and compensatory damages of more than $300 million.

The most prominent of these suits was one filed by the widows of three men killed by Joseph Wesbecker, a Kentucky man who killed seven former co-workers and wounded 13 others with an AK-47 assault rifle before killing himself in September 1989.