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Friday, January 5, 2007

She Didn't Sue: A medication error

His prom photo showed he was a handsome teenager with a messy mop of dark brown hair. He went to college to study political science. But within the next year or two John Eric Kauffman developed mental illness--a severe form of bipolar disorder. In 1992, in his late twenties, he suffered his most severe psychotic breakdown. Over the next 8 years, he didn't suffer any psychotic breakdowns, thanks to lithium and Stelazine. After that, a psychiatrist changed his medications, John stopped taking them, his condition worsened, and he was hospitalized. In the hospital he was given Zyprexa in a relatively high dose. He then remained on Zyprexa for 6 years, and gained 100 pounds, developing heart disease. John's weight gain probably contributed to her son's death in his forties from an irregular heart beat, according to a forensic pathologist.

Such weight gain was not unusual for Zyprexa patients; the drug maker's internal records show one out of six patients gain more than 66 pounds! The drug maker, Eli Lilly, which received $4 billion in Zyprexa sales last year, had long played down data on these side effects.

Lilly has agreed to pay more than $1 billion in settlements to patients. But John's mother is not suing Lilly. She simply wants her son's case to be known as a cautionary story about Zyprexa's tendency to cause weight gain. "I don't think that price should be paid," she said. She added that the company should have been more honest with doctors, as well as the milions of people who take Zyprexa.

Advice for family members: If a member of your family is taking Zyprexa but is not acutely psychotic, discuss the side effects with their doctor. Some leading psychiatrists say that you and your doctor might consider other drugs for long-term treatment.

Source: New York Times articles by Alex Berenson, January 4 & 5: "Mother Wonders if Psychosis Drug Helped Kill Son," and "Lilly Settles with 18,000 over Zyprexa."