Eli Lilly, the makers of Zyprexa announced it had settled another 900 lawsuits against its anti-psychotic medication Zyprexa, on that very same day Eli Lilly was claiming that legal advertisements where hurting patients. The company asserts that a recent study showed that patients using Zyprexa were more likely to abruptly stop taking it once they were exposed to legal advertising highlighting its harmful side effects. The study, which Eli Lilly paid for, surveyed only 402 patients – a small number considering that an estimated 2 million people may be using Zyprexa.
While they agree that patients should never stop a medication without first consulting their physician, many plaintiff attorneys were incredulous at Eli Lilly’s claims. They point out that the company itself was slow to warn patients that Zyprexa could cause diabetes and high blood sugar. Even the FDA, the federal agency that is supposed to insure drug safety, often takes too long to inform the public of drug dangers.
Consumer advocacy groups like Public Citizen site instance after instance where the FDA allowed drugs to remain on the market without warnings of side effects. For example, the arthritis drug Vioxx managed to get FDA approval even after it was linked to serious cardiac complications. Public Citizen and others claim that the FDA has become too close to the pharmaceutical industry, thus allowing for the lack of oversight. In fact, 10 of the 32 members on the FDA panel that initially investigated Vioxx had received consulting fees or research funds from drug companies. That panel voted to keep the dangerous drug on the market even as evidence of its side effects continued to mount.
The situation surrounding Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa is another example of how pharmaceutical firms and the FDA often fail to adequately warn patients of drug dangers. Zyprexa, which is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, has the potential to cause blood sugar levels to rise. This can lead to diabetes and even death. In 2006, the New York Times reported that Eli Lilly knew this as early as 2000, but did not make that information public until 2001. So far, Eli Lilly has paid out over $700 billion dollars in liability claims over Zyprexa.
Despite the controversy surrounding Zyprexa, the FDA still has not required Eli Lilly to publish Medication Guidelines for the drug. The FDA is supposed to require the Medication Guidelines if a drug meets one of three criteria: (1) if doing so could prevent serious side effects; (2) if a drug has serious risks relative to benefits that a patient needs to be aware of; or (3) if adherence to directions for use is crucial to the drug’s effectiveness. Zyprexa meets the first two standards, but as of today, the FDA has not required Eli Lilly to write Medication Guidelines.
It is clear the legal advertising decried by Eli Lilly has become a new warning system for dangerous drugs. At times it’s the legal advertisement itself that first brings to light any indication to a patient that the drug they are taking may actually be doing more harm than good. If the drug companies and the FDA would put patient well-being ahead of profit, there would be no need for law firms to disseminate this information.