Rights group up against Eli Lilly
Source: The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA
A small Eugene-based human rights group has gotten swept up in a legal dispute with drug maker Eli Lilly over access to secret internal documents that describe the side effects of a drug used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
MindFreedom – an international coalition of groups defending the rights of those suffering with psychiatric disorders – is one of several groups and individuals hit by a temporary injunction blocking them from posting the documents or linking to other Web sites that post them. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in a New York district court.
The dispute erupted after the New York Times obtained the materials – e-mails, scientific reports and marketing materials – and published several stories in December about the drug Zyprexa.
The documents showed that for years Eli Lilly downplayed the risk of weight gain, high blood sugar and diabetes among patients taking the drug, according to the New York Times. The stories said 30 percent of patients taking Zyprexa gained 22 pounds or more after a year and that several patients gained 100 pounds.
The Times said Eli Lilly balked at a proposal to provide psychiatrists prescribing its drug with information about diabetes and created a marketing campaign suggesting that the drug was appropriate for older patients with symptoms of dementia.
Eli Lilly has spent more than $1 billion to settle lawsuits with thousands of patients who claimed that their use of Zyprexa led to diabetes and other health problems. The company, which annually sells about $4.2 billion worth of Zyprexa, still faces another 1,000 such suits.
The documents used by the New York Times were first given to the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Zyprexa cases. The settlements included a gag order that kept the documents under seal, but an Alaska attorney subpoenaed them in a separate case, and then gave them to the New York Times and to several activists concerned with mental health issues.
“That’s when we first heard about it,” MindFreedom Executive Director David Oaks said.
“We put out an alert to people saying there’s a grass-roots campaign making these documents available to anyone,” he said.
While the MindFreedom Web site didn’t post the material, it did point people to Web sites that had them, Oaks said.
In late December, Eli Lilly lawyers persuaded a judge to issue a temporary mandatory injunction blocking the dissemination of the documents.
At the Tuesday hearing, the judge will rule whether to make it a permanent injunction.
But Oaks thinks it’s too late for Eli Lilly to keep its internal records from public scrutiny. While Mindfreedom is complying with the injunction’s requirements, not everyone is.
On Friday, Internet rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a brief on behalf of a Wiki Web site that allows anyone with Internet access to post and edit material there. The nonprofit rights group argues that the court can’t block the site.
“Rather than referencing specific parties and those who may have acted in concert with them, this court effectively issued an impermissible prior restraint against the world,” the brief says.
The brief also notes that the documents appear to still be available online and cites a Web log by a lawyer, who last week was able to download them after just 17 minutes of searching.
“The genie is out of the bottle. The horses have left the barn. Pick your metaphor,” Oaks said.
The New York Times isn’t the only national news organization following the story.
Oaks said he got a call last week from researchers at the CBS News show “60 Minutes” asking for help accessing the information.
“Our argument is, the document is no longer secret,” Oaks said. “They’re trying to keep it out of the court of public opinion because that could impact policy about Eli Lilly. It could lead to some states’ attorneys general going after them for criminal prosecution.”
Eli Lilly, in a statement, defended the drug and said that while the lawsuits lacked merit, settling them served the best interests of the company and the Zyprexa patients.
“We wanted to reduce significant uncertainties involved in litigating such complex cases. Our decision to resolve the claims does not change the fact that Zyprexa has and will continue to improve the lives of millions of patients around the world who are suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” said Sidney Taurel, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Eli Lilly.