Overview of the “Secret Zyprexa Files” Controversy
Source: MindFreedom Media Campaign
What Is Eli Lilly Trying to Hide?
In 2006 Eli Lilly agreed to a $750 million settlement of lawsuits filed by 8,000 people who claimed that they contacted diabetes or suffered significant weight gain after being prescribed Lilly’s best-selling drug Zyprexa. Zyprexa is a type of psychiatric drug called a neuroleptic or anti-psychotic. About 18,000 more lawsuits are pending.
Attorneys for both sides of these lawsuits agreed to keep the approximately 11 million documents involved secret.
Attorney Jim Gottstein, who was not involved in the Zyprexa lawsuits, subpoenaed and obtained copies of documents that were used in the lawsuits from an attorney for the plaintiffs in those lawsuits, who was under court order to keep the documents secret.
Mr. Gottstein states he intended to use the documents in another lawsuit. After examining the documents and realizing the extent to which Eli Lilly went to cover up evidence that, according their own researchers, Zyprexa causes serious health problems, such as diabetes, extreme weight gain, and resultant lethargy, and Lilly’s violation of the law by promoting Zyprexa for off-label uses, he decided to go public with the documents. He then sent copies to various people, including The New York Times.
After obtaining copies of the documents the New York Times published a series of articles and an editorial in December ’06 and January ’07 highly critical of Lilly’s cover-up of unhealthful side effects regarding Zyprexa. Lilly has a financial interest in keeping the side effects of their harmful drug secret, or else sales of the highly successful billion-dollar drug might be substantially reduced.
It has long been a tactic of pharmaceutical companies to settle lawsuits out of court that deal with the harmful side effects of their drugs, with the proviso that the plaintiffs, under penalty of law, must not disclose the terms of the agreement. In essence this is “hush money” — the drug companies pay for silence, so as to not hurt sales of their drugs.
In the case of Zyprexa, the secret is now out, much to the chagrin of Lilly executives. In addition to the documents in the possession of The New York Times, dozens of copies of the documents have been distributed via the internet.
Lilly attorneys have launched a full-scale counterattack supposedly to get their documents back to secure their secrecy. However, Lilly attorneys know that “the cat is out of the bag” so to speak. Their secret is out! The real reason for Lilly’s counterattack is to punish the whistleblowers, and to intimidate possible future whistleblowers into restraining from doing so.
Among the steps Lilly’s attorneys have taken are:
- Obtained an injunction ordering Mr. Gottstein to return all documents and cease and desist further disclosure of the document contents.
- The injunction also orders him to keep copies of all e-mails, voice mails, and text messages pertaining to the Zyprexa affair.
- Threatening him with criminal and civil contempt sanctions, which could include jail time.
- Asking the Court to require him to travel to New York for a deposition, and to transport computers to New York for forensic examination.
- Asking the Court to force him to produce “Communications he had with anyone relating to these documents.”
- Obtained a temporary restraining order against people and organizations whom Mr. Gottstein sent the documents to, including MindFreedom.
Mindfreedom is at the time this was written still under a temporary restraining order barring it from distributing any of the Zyprexa documents, or even posting information to facilitate the dissemination of the documents. This is a direct attack on the first amendment right of freedom of speech.
A hearing was held 16 and 17 January 2007 in which MindFreedom and others now under the TRO argued that the TRO should be ended, freeing anyone to exercise their First Amendment rights, and distribute information about what could be harmful to one’s health. Lilly argued that the TRO be made permanent. A decision is expected in early February.
It is our view that Lilly’s cover-up of documents has nothing to do with protecting proprietary information, but is an attempt to suppress incriminating evidence against them, and to send a message to potential future whistleblowers that they risk all the harassment that a multibillion dollar corporation can bring on them if they dare expose any of Lilly’s illegal acts.
MindFreedom’s attorney, Ted Chabasinski has pointed out “Eli Lilly has chosen a course of action, lying about and hiding the real effects of Zyprexa, that they knew would lead to the injury and death of literally thousands of people. If this isn’t criminal, I don’t know what is.”
If Enron executives can be prosecuted for stealing money from employee pension funds, why can’t Lilly executives be prosecuted for acts that lead to people’s deaths or greatly damage their health?
Mindfreedom members are urged to write to their state attorney general, asking that Eli Lilly be investigated for their willful cover-up of the harmful effects of the drug that they sell, and for illegally promoting Zyprexa for off-label (non-FDA approved) uses.