Thursday, April 1, 1999

Photo courtesy of Forsyth family
In this December 1991 photo, William Forsyth Sr.
and William Jr. are in back. Daughter-in-law Kim
is at left, June is in the middle, and
daughter Susan is at right.

Decision in
family’s lawsuit
against Prozac
rests with jury

The family blames the popular
antidepressant for a murder-suicide;
the company says a 'powerful
disease' is the culprit

By Lori Tighe


A jury now must decide if it believes a Maui family or a pharmaceutical giant in a lawsuit blaming a murder-suicide on the antidepressant drug Prozac.

William Sr. and June Forsyth died in a grisly murder-suicide on Maui in 1993. Yesterday, their children didn't ask the jury for a specific settlement in closing arguments -- they said the verdict is more important.

"If we get a verdict in this trial it will affect the whole pharmaceutical industry," said William Forsyth Jr., 34, a Lahaina charter boat captain. "It's the only thing that will rattle this company."

His sister, Susan Forsyth, 34, a property manager who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., added, "That's what we want, change."

Eli Lilly, maker of the world's most-prescribed antidepressant drug Prozac, has never been sued successfully over a Prozac-related suicide or murder. They have settled a number of cases, and won a trial case in Kentucky a few years ago.

But the Forsyths didn't want to settle. They said after a year of discussions with Lilly to put a warning on the Prozac label failed, they decided to take the Indianapolis-based company to court.

Forsyth Jr. found the bodies of his slain parents in their Kaanapali Hillside home on March 4, 1993. His Prozac-medicated father stabbed his mother 15 times as she lay in bed, and then leaned on the knife to kill himself.

"You can't erase the memory. I can't believe it still," Forsyth Jr. said. "Even though Dad went suicidal, he went beyond that to our mom. That's something we're willing to go to court for. We don't want someone else to suffer this."

Lilly attorneys repeated the same statement in their closing argument as they have done throughout the month-long trial: "This case is about a good drug and a very bad, powerful disease."

The company's attorney, Andrew See, blamed the Forsyths' tragedy on three "trigger factors:" Forsyth Sr.'s major depressive episode; hopelessness, and his discharge from a mental hospital not feeling any better than when he entered.

Forsyth also felt dependent on his wife, yet trapped in their marriage, See said.

But the Forsyth children said they saw drastic changes in their father two days after he went on Prozac. He asked to go to the hospital, despite his own doctor's resistance to admit him, said Forsyth Jr.

"He told Castle (Hospital) he thought about knives, but they didn't pursue it," he said. "But when I told the doctor what happened the day I found my parents, he said it was beyond the realm of possibilities."

Lilly misled the public by not warning doctors that the drug causes violent suicidal tendencies in some people, said the Forsyths' attorney, Andy Vickery, in closing arguments.

By law, drug companies have to warn people about the danger, especially if it relates to life and death.

"Lilly knew about the danger, and failed to warn the public," Vickery said.

Lilly didn't include a warning on Prozac's label because the Food and Drug Administration didn't see any link between the drug and an increased risk of suicide, See said.

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