Original article no longer available
By Jeff Swiatek
November 30, 2002
Terms of the deal not disclosed; new litigation in Georgia is targeting metabolization issue.
A two-year-old Prozac negligence lawsuit, set for trial Tuesday, has been settled out of court by defendant Eli Lilly and Co. and the Pennsylvania plaintiffs.
The case was brought by Diane and Melvin Cassidy, of Monroeville, who in July 2000 picketed outside Lilly’s corporate headquarters in Indianapolis, handing out fliers proclaiming, “Lilly, how many people are maimed or dead on your drug today?”
The Cassidys’ lawsuit, filed in federal court in Pittsburgh, charged that Diane Cassidy’s doctor prescribed the antidepressant Prozac to her for weight loss and that the drug caused suicidal thoughts that led her to slash her wrists and overdose on a painkiller. She suffered intracranial bleeding from the painkiller, which left her paralyzed on one side and mentally
impaired, according to the lawsuit, which sought $4.84 million in tangible damages.
The Cassidys were represented by Houston trial lawyer Andy Vickery, who has negotiated settlements of several Prozac cases against Lilly.
Terms of the settlement, reached this week, were not disclosed.
The Indianapolis drugmaker said in a statement that it “made a business decision to settle . . . for factors completely unrelated to the safety and efficacy of Prozac. Such factors included the extensive time demands that litigation would have placed upon our scientists, keeping them away from their primary objective of discovering lifesaving medicines. In no way was our decision to settle in any way motivated by concerns over the safety and efficacy of Prozac.”
The settlement comes the same week that a fresh Prozac lawsuit was filed against Lilly, in U.S. District Court in Georgia. It raises a new charge in the more than decadelong litigation over Prozac: that Lilly has failed to publicize research showing some people are “poor metabolizers of Prozac” and a test can reveal if a patient might be affected.
The Georgia product-liability and wrongful-death suit, in which Vickery is assisting the plaintiff, was brought by William H. Shell, the widower of LaVerne M. Shell. She shot herself to death at age 63 in November 2000, 11 days after starting on a prescription of Prozac to treat migraine headaches.
The lawsuit charges that a human enzyme dubbed CYP2D6 normally metabolizes or breaks down Prozac and similar drugs in the body, but fails to do so in a minority of people. In their bodies, the active ingredient in Prozac builds up to high levels, putting them at risk of violence and suicide, the lawsuit says.
“Lilly is negligent in failing to make this information public, to convey it to doctors, or otherwise to take reasonable measures to implement appropriate patient screening techniques,” the lawsuit says.
Lilly spokesman Blair Austin said that company officials hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on the new charge.
The metabolization issue is gaining currency among some activists who publicize side effects from the Prozac class of antidepressants and other drugs.
Self-employed businessman Jim Harper of Glendale, Calif., who runs a Web site called Prozactruth.com, said he hopes to soon offer a DNA test through his site that can tell if a person is a poor metabolizer of Prozac and related drugs.
“I should not have to be the one” to publicize the test, Harper said Friday. “I’d rather be doing other things on my nights and weekends.” But drug companies and doctors aren’t doing enough to warn users of serious side effects from antidepressants, said Harper, who noted he receives hundreds of e-mails a week from people who read his Web site.
Harper said he hopes to arrange to sell the test for about $245 through Genelex Corp. of Redmond, Wash., a direct-to-consumer DNA testing firm.