Prozac's role
in Maui deaths
going to court

A family that suffered a
murder-suicide sues
the maker of the drug

By Helen Altonn

The role of Prozac in a Maui murder-suicide case five years ago will be argued in Honolulu's federal court June 2.

The antidepressant drug has been blamed for violence in other lawsuits, but few have made it to trial, said William J. Downey III, Los Angeles attorney for plaintiffs in the Maui case.

He said William Forsyth Sr. stabbed his wife, June, 15 times on March 4, 1993, in their Kaanapali Hillside home then propped a kitchen knife on a stool and killed himself. He had been taking Prozac two weeks for depression, Downey said.

William D. Forsyth Jr., a Lahaina charter boat captain, and his sister, Susan, of Los Angeles, filed suit in March 1995 against Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly & Co.

They're seeking more than $1 million in damages for the deaths of their parents, and they want a warning label included with Prozac.

Eli Lilly failed to warn about Prozac's life-threatening side effects, including possibility of suicide and violent behavior, the lawsuit alleges.

In a 31-page opinion Monday, Hawaii's Chief U.S. District Court Judge Alan C. Kay rejected the company's attempts to dismiss wrongful death claims for suicides caused by taking the drug.

Kay noted a study of 172,598 subjects showing Prozac had a suicide rate more than double that of other antidepressants. He ruled there was sufficient evidence to allow trial on all the plaintiffs' claims before a federal jury.

The judge said evidence indicates "Lilly may have acted wantonly, oppressively, or with such malice as implies a spirit of mischief or criminal indifference."

Eli Lilly told the court the Forsyths relied on "junk science."

Lilly spokesman Edward West today said by telephone from the company's Indianapolis headquarters, "There is a clear consensus opinion among the scientific community that there is no causal link between use of antidepressant drugs, including Prozac, and suicidality or violent behavior."

West said a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee in 1991 unanimously agreed there was no evidence of such a link.

In December 1996, he said, the Harvard Mental Health Letter concluded: "Despite some sensational reports there is no evidence that Prozac or other SSRIs (a class of antidepressant drugs) increased the risk of a suicide attempt."

West said Prozac has been prescribed for more than 30 million patients worldwide and is the world's largest selling antidepressant.

The Forsyths presented evidence indicating Lilly "may have deliberately suppressed unfavorable clinical studies, falsified clinical trials and deliberately failed to report adverse events to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

In a telephone interview today, Downey said the senior Forsyth "had no history of violence or suicidal thoughts or actions. "This is a guy who was a successful (retired) businessman, well loved, active in the church and society," said Downey, of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Guilford & Downey.

Downey said another Prozac trial is scheduled in Oklahoma next month, and one case was tried in Kentucky a few years ago and lost.

"Apparently all other cases were settled or have been dismissed," Downey said.

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