The Capital Times (Madison, WI)
November 19, 1992
Author: Pat Schneider, The Capital Times
The makers of Prozac , the controversial, widely prescribed anti-depressant, may finally get their day in court in Dane County.
In what would be the first lawsuit on Prozac ‘s safety to go to trial, a Wisconsin couple is seeking unspecified damages from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Mendota Mental Health Institute in the attempted suicide of their daughter.
Lilly is eager to go to trial to prove the safety of its drug, said company spokesperson Kelly Weston.
“It has been our policy that we will not settle,” Weston said.
Sandra Lee Sorg has been in a coma since June 25, 1989, when she hanged herself with a sheet in a Mendota bathroom. Sorg had been given Prozac as treatment for depression.
Her parents, Bernice and Arthur Hafferkamp, charge that Indianapolis-based Lilly knew that its drug increased suicidal tendencies but marketed it anyway.
Specifically, the Hafferkamps charge that Prozac made Sorg extremely agitated, a recognized side effect of the drug, causing her to attempt suicide.
The couple also alleges that Mendota psychiatrists Stephanie E. Poellnitz and V.A. Sincaban were negligent in administering Prozac to Sorg and failing to prevent her suicide attempt.
The suit is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 30 before Circuit Judge Richard Callaway.
Attorneys involved in the case refused to comment on specifics, but attorneys representing the Hafferkamps and Mendota said Wednesday they expected the case to go to trial.
“It sure looks that way,” said Bruce Schultz, a Madison attorney representing the Hafferkamps.
Arnold Wightman, an assistant attorney general representing Mendota, also said he expected the case to go to trial.
More than 100 lawsuits have targeted the safety of Prozac , which critics say triggers suicidal and violent behaviors. Not one has yet gone to trial.
“Lilly has actually pushed many of the cases to go to trial. They end up being dismissed,” Weston said, after medical records are opened to reveal suicidal histories.
The drug also has been named as a factor in more than 30 criminal cases, but the defense of Prozac -triggered violence failed in all.
Free of many of the side effects of an older generation of anti-depressants and effective against a broader range of ailments, Prozac was hailed as a wonder drug after its 1988 introduction.
Two years later the first lawsuit linking Prozac to suicide was brought, and the drug became the target of a intense public scrutiny prompted in part by a media campaign by the Church of Scientology to pressure the government to ban the drug.
A Federal Drug Administration panel last year refused to order the warning label that Scientologists had sought.
Weston said the Prozac lawsuits confuse the problem with the cure.
“Prozac is used to treat depression, and a tragically common sympton of depression is suicidal thinking and suicidal behavior,” said Weston. “It’s not Prozac , it’s the disease that causes these symptoms.”
Since 20 to 30 percent of people don’t respond to Prozac or other anti-depressants and the drugs take two to four weeks to become effective, “the suicidal urge may continue on its natural course,” Weston said.
“These are tragic stories; there’s a tendency to want to find something to blame.”
Index Terms: MENTAL HEALTH DRUG
Record Number: 9211190523
Copyright (c) 1992 The Capital Times
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