Officer’s suicide prompts new Prozac lawsuit — (Indy Star)

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Indy Star

By J.K. Wall, jk.wall@indystar.com

October 2, 2003

Eli Lilly and Co. again faces a lawsuit alleging that its anti-depressant Prozac can cause suicide. But this one takes a slightly new tack.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in Marion Superior Court charges that Prozac can cause suicide in some patients whose bodies cannot break down Prozac’s main ingredient, and faults Lilly for not properly warning the public.
Lilly says Prozac does not cause suicide and that its safety is well-documented.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the drug caused Daren Alli, a police officer and SWAT team captain in Clarkston, Mich., to shoot himself in the head with a .38-caliber revolver.
Alli had taken Prozac for three days to alleviate a “mild” case of depression, said his wife, Michele, but threw the pills in the toilet after they made him “jumpy” and “jittery.” He killed himself four days later on May 23, 2001. A post-mortem drug test found high levels of fluoxetine, Prozac’s main ingredient, in his blood, according to the lawsuit.
Alli’s wife, Michele, and their two grade-school kids filed the lawsuit. Their case continues more than a decade of litigation over Prozac side-effects, involving more than 300 lawsuits.
“This is the first case involving Lilly that we have hard scientific proof that our client had a hard time metabolizing Prozac,” said Andy Vickery, a Houston attorney representing Michele Alli.
Vickery has used the metabolization argument before, in a case in Georgia that was settled this spring. But this time, he said, the blood test done on Daren Alli gives him stronger evidence.
Vickery has filed more than 20 suits against Lilly, including one of only two cases that went to trial and the only one decided by a jury before a settlement. He lost that case, Forsythe v. Lilly, by a unanimous decision in 1999.
But Vickery isn’t stopping. “As long as Prozac keeps killing people, I will keep suing Lilly,” he said.
Lilly vigorously refutes Vickery’s claims.
“Prozac has been found to be safe and efficacious,” said Lilly spokeswoman Jennifer Yoder. “Its safety and efficacy is well-studied, well-documented and well-established. (It’s been) taken by more than 40 million people (and) significantly improved millions of patients’ lives.”
Yoder said thousands of scientific articles and a 1991 decision of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel found no evidence that Prozac and similar anti-depressant drugs cause suicides.
That decision, however, has come under some doubt recently, as the makers of anti-depressants Paxil and Effexor, have discouraged doctors from prescribing the drugs to patients under 18 because of the risk of suicide. Vickery asserts that the risk of suicide extends to adults as well.
Yoder said the recent findings about Paxil and Effexor do not apply to Prozac. Indeed, the FDA cleared Prozac for pediatric use in January of this year, she said. “There’s not been any causal link with suicide,” Yoder said.
While Lilly is certain of Prozac’s safety, Michele Alli is just as certain the drug pushed her husband to take his life.
“I know that Daren did not make this decision. Those drugs took him from us,” said Alli, a registered nurse who said she did not know there had been lawsuits claiming Prozac could cause violent side effects.
“He was a very upbeat, happy person,” she said. “(This was) totally, totally out of character.”
Call Star reporter J.K. Wall at 1-317-444-6287.