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Park City Daily News (South Central Kentucky)
by Allen G Breed, Associated Press Editor
June 5, 1990
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky, (AP) – Bizarre side effects attributed to the popular antidepressant drug Prozac have prompted a small group of women from across the country to form a national self-help network.
“It’s a very dangerous drug, especially since people aren’t being warned about its possible side effects”, says Janet Sims, who founded the Prozac Survivors Support Group.
Sims announced formation of her group in Noblesville, Ind, May 15. Since then, groups have sprung up in Kentucky, Florida, California, Iowa and New York, and she says she expects at least a dozen more to emerge in the coming weeks.
Sims and others say Prozac – a member of the class of drugs known as fluoxetine, has been promoted as a kind or miracle drug with few and minor side effects. But they say the medication can induce violent and persistent suicidal and homicidal tendencies in people who have never experienced such thoughts before. The manufacturer and federal officials dispute that contention.
Prozac was introduced by Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis in early 1988. It quickly became the most widely dispensed antidepressant – and one of the most widely dispensed drugs – on the U.S. market. Lilly estimates the drug is used by 1.5 million people worldwide.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Prozac for treatment of depression. But there are reports of health-care workers prescribing it to treat everything from obesity to acne.
“It’s being given out like candy”, said Michael O’Brien, a spokesman for the Los Angeles – based Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights. The doctors and psychiatrists are told that the drug is incredibly safe, so they give it out for just about any reason.”
However, FDA and Lilly officials said there have been no unusual problems with Prozac. A spokesman for the company said many depressed people have suicidal tendencies regardless of whether they receive medication or the kinds of drugs that are prescribed. Sims told a national television audience on the “Geraldo” show that she started eating and buying compulsively while on the drug. She eventually attempted suicide.
Avis Martin of San Francisco said she would “sit around in my room planning how I was going to murder my children and commit suicide.” She has started a survivor’s chapter.
Bonnie Leitsch, who founded the Louisville group, said she was convinced the Prozac caused Joseph Wesbecker to go on a shooting rampage at a Louisville printing plant last year. He killed eight people and wounded 12 before taking his own life.
Records show that Wesbecker had been taking the drug, but State medical examiner Dr George Nichols said that Prozac was “not a solo drug” in that case and was not directly responsible.
O’Brien cited a Harvard University study published in February which found in 3.5% of the participants; “serious paradoxical responses… that were characterized by intense, violent suicidal thoughts.” It found – as the support groups leaders say they did – that the symptoms ceased after use of the drug was discontinued.
The FDA has received roughly 7,000 adverse reaction reports on Prozac. That’s about twice the number received on Prozac’s leading competitor, Elavil, which has been on the market for about 20 years.
But FDA spokewoman Faye Peterson said the number of reports was not unusual for a drug so widely prescribed as Prozac. And she said the majority of those reports describe sleeplessness and agitation, not violent behavior. We don’t think there is any problem here, but we continue to monitor it, she said.
Lilly spokeman Ed West said there have been extensive clinical and post-marketing trials of the drug and “we see no trend that suggests a causal relationship between our drug and this kind of behavior. Unfortunately, suicidal thoughts, as well as acts of suicide, are known risks of depressed patients”, West said.
Sims and the others say there’s more to the picture than that. “It makes you think you’re crazy and that the only way out is to take more drugs”, said Sharon DiGeronimo, founder of the New York group. “It’s very insidious.”
The women are taking calls at their homes from people who may be experiencing what they went through. “It’s to let them know that they’re not alone and they’re not crazy, DiGeronimo said. “And maybe they’ll get off Prozac.”
Meanwhile, O’Brien is talking with DiGeronimo about forming a Prozac Task Force and possibly filing a class action lawsuit against Lilly.
“Personally, I’d like to see this drug off the market, ” DiGeronimo said. “Not indiscriminately, (but to let people know) that this drug alters personalities, characters and thoughts, to the point that people die.
Here are the telephone numbers of existing Prozac Support Groups:
California: 415-481- 0642
New York: 516-736-4371
Rosie Meysenberg also collected the following quote from Janet Sims:
May 14, 1990
“‘I became violent toward my husband,’ reported Janet Sims. ‘I would be happy one minute, and the next minute I would be very angry, throwing dishes and glass items and other breakable things. I also attacked my husband with my fists and tried to scratch his face… While on Prozac, my marriage fell apart… While on Prozac I started to have obsessive suicidal thoughts. I thought that I should just destroy my body in any way I could.