Mar 21, 2005
Prozac, an anti-depressant drug, has been a gold mine for Eli Lilly, with almost three billion dollars in sales each year. A very profitable business. But it has now come out that 15 years ago the company minimized and even hid medical data about the risks of using this drug.
The British Medical Journal obtained internal documents from Eli Lilly showing that in 1988 it knew Prozac had an important side effect in common with other anti-depressants. While alleviating depression, it could hurl the user in the opposite direction, sometimes leading to violent acts against others or the user. But Eli Lilly marketed the drug as if it had almost no side effects, pushing for the widest possible use. It called Prozac the "happiness pill." It certainly was happy for the company in terms of the profits brought in.
In 1994, Eli Lilly was brought into court after a Prozac user killed eight people and wounded a dozen others before committing suicide. The families of the victims sued Eli Lilly, saying it was responsible for the deaths due to the dangerous drug it marketed. The company won the lawsuit – on the grounds that the Federal Drug Administration had said the drug was safe in 1991. But it later came out that Eli Lilly secretly agreed during the trial to pay off the victims if they promised never to appeal the verdict. In order to keep selling the "happiness pill," the company didn't mind spending a few million.
The other big pharmaceutical companies launched competing products for this profitable anti-depressant market. And, in order to make still greater profits, they indicated that children could use these products. Pfizer, which makes Zoloft, is today being sued in the case of a teenager who used it and then killed his grandparents. Another company, GlaxoSmithKline, is accused of hiding five clinical studies on Deroxat, which revealed the risk of suicide among youth using this anti-depressant drug.
These revelations about Prozac and other anti-depressants add to what the recent revelations about Vioxx and anti-cholesterol drugs have shown. Anything is allowable in pursuit of profit: false advertising, hiding scientific information, and deception in the court room. For the heads of the pharmaceutical companies, medicine is good primarily because it brings in profits.