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Michigan Police Officer's Family Sues Lilly Over Suicide

Oct 3, 2003 | AP

A Michigan woman who blames her husband's suicide on Prozac has filed a lawsuit claiming that Eli Lilly & Co. should have warned patients that some people's bodies cannot metabolize the drug's active ingredient.

The lawsuit filed Thursday against the Indianapolis-based drug maker in Marion County Superior Court is the second to make such a claim. Lilly settled a similar case in Georgia this spring.

But Houston attorney Andy Vickery, who has filed more than 20 lawsuits against the drug maker including the Georgia suit, said this case is different.

"This is the first case involving Lilly that we have hard scientific proof that our client had a hard time metabolizing Prozac," he said.

A blood test found high levels of fluoxetine, Prozac's active ingredient, in the body of Clarkston, Mich., police officer Daren Alli following his May 23, 2001 suicide, the lawsuit alleges.

Alli had taken Prozac for three days to alleviate a "mild" case of depression, but threw the pills in the toilet after they made him "jumpy" and "jittery," said his widow, Michele.

Four days later, the SWAT team captain shot himself in the head with a .38-caliber revolver.

"I know that Daren did not make this decision. Those drugs took him from us," said Michele Alli, a registered nurse and mother of two.

Lilly, which has faced more than 300 lawsuits over Prozac's alleged side effects, maintains the drug's safety is well-documented. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Prozac for use in children this year.

"Prozac has been found to be safe and efficacious," Lilly spokeswoman Jennifer Yoder told The Indianapolis Star. "Its safety and efficacy is well-studied, well-documented and well-established."

An FDA panel in 1991 found no evidence that Prozac and similar antidepressants cause suicides, she said.

The Georgia lawsuit was brought by William H. Shell, the widower of LaVerne M. Shell. She shot herself to death at age 63 in November 2000, 11 days after starting on a prescription of Prozac to treat migraine headaches.

The lawsuit alleged that a human enzyme dubbed CYP2D6 normally metabolizes or breaks down Prozac and similar drugs in the body, but fails to do so in a minority of people. In their bodies, the active ingredient in Prozac builds up to high levels, putting them at risk of violence and suicide, the lawsuit alleged.

The government in August warned against using a similar drug, Paxil, in youngsters because of a potential increased risk of suicide. Paxil and Prozac both work by increasing brain activity of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin.

Yoder said the findings about Paxil do not apply to Prozac.

The FDA approved Prozac in 1987. It went on to become Lilly's top-selling drug until the company lost its patent in 2001.

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