Saturday, April 3, 1999

Family hopes
Prozac case leads
to awareness

They lost their lawsuit,
but still believe the drug
caused their parents' deaths

By Susan Kreifels


Eli Lilly and Company sees yesterday's federal court verdict as an endorsement of the safety of its antidepressant drug, Prozac.

But two adult children who believe their parents died as a result of the drug said the case they lost against the pharmaceutical giant has raised public awareness of Prozac's alleged dangers.

"All we wanted to accomplish with this trial was to get the word out that this drug can cause serious and life-threatening problems for some people," William Jr. and June Forsyth said after the unanimous jury verdict at U.S. District Court.

Houston attorney Andy Vickery, who represented the family, said he would ask U.S. District Judge Alan Kay for a new trial. Vickery said Eli Lilly refused to bring its researcher who studied Prozac's safety to testify, and could not be forced to do so.

William Forsyth Sr. fatally stabbed his wife of 37 years in their Maui home on March 4, 1993. Forsyth Sr. then leaned against a knife and killed himself.

Forsyth had been taking Prozac for depression for 10 days before the murder-suicide. His children believe the antidepressant induced violence that was totally out of their father's character.

His son, a Lahaina charter boat captain, found the couple's bodies the next day.

Eli Lilly spokesman Edward West said the jury recognized that Prozac, prescribed for more than 35 million people worldwide, is safe.

"Medicine doesn't enjoy that type of usage unless it's both safe and effective," said West in a telephone interview from the firm's headquarters in Indianapolis.

Vickery argued in the trial that 3-5 percent of patients who take Prozac react to the anti-depressant with violent and suicidal behavior. He accused Eli Lilly of knowing this information, but failing to tell doctors who prescribe it and misleading them about the risks.

Eli Lilly attorneys argued that Forsyth Sr. fit the typical description of an older person who kills his wife, then himself, because of marital problems and severe depression.

Vickery said he was "mystified and mortified" by the decision, which came close to ending in a hung jury. Shortly before the verdict was read yesterday, jurors notified Kay they were deadlocked.

One distressed juror told Vickery that several jurors "were appalled at what Eli Lilly had done" but felt they had no choice because of court instructions.

In Kentucky in 1994, Eli Lilly won the only other Prozac case tried in court. That case involved a printing plant employee who killed eight co-workers in a 1989 shooting rampage.

Vickery said the company's attorney admitted in that case that evidence had been withheld. West denied that.

West said about 160 Prozac lawsuits have been filed in the 10 years the drug has been sold. Most were dropped or dismissed, West said, and a few were settled out of court because that was cheaper than litigation. Nine cases are still outstanding, and West predicted they would die before they reached trial.

Vickery said nine suicide cases he represented were settled last year, and two of those almost went to court. He predicted there would be 20 outstanding cases by the end of the year.

"I've been contacted by lots of families," Vickery said. "The Forsyths are not the only family touched by tragedy when loved ones in the first months (of taking Prozac) do things really out of character."

West said the safety of Prozac was sensationalized in the news media a decade ago because the public did not understand that depression was a treatable biological illness. He said Prozac has helped educate the public about depression.

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