Lawsuits Build as Eli Lilly Disciplines Employees in Prozac Case

More consumers, including a 16-year-old male, claimed this week that they received unsolicited samples of Prozac in the mail, while drug maker Eli Lilly & Co. disciplined eight employees involved in the campaign.

In a statement, Eli Lilly said it had completed its investigation of the allegations and concluded that some of its sales personnel had acted inconsistent with company policy. Three sales managers and five sales representatives received disciplinary actions including separation from the company, demotion, probation and warnings, Eli Lilly said.

The statement did not specify which employees received which types of disciplinary action.

“While the number of Lilly personnel involved was small and the inappropriate activities limited, Lilly takes the matter very seriously,” the company said in a statement. “Consequently, Lilly has taken disciplinary action with those involved.”

The issue came to light early this month when a South Florida woman sued Eli Lilly, the pharmacy Walgreens, Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and the three doctors and a physician's assistant from the hospital's medical group.

The woman, named in the lawsuit only as S.K., claimed that she received an unsolicited sample of Prozac Weekly, a once-a-week version of the antidepressant drug, in a Walgreens envelope accompanied by a letter from the three doctors and physician's assistant encouraging her to try the new medicine.

The lawsuit sparked an investigation by the Florida Attorney General's Office into whether Eli Lilly's campaign violated state fair trade laws and whether consumer privacy violations in the pharmaceutical marketing industry are widespread.

“It certainly demonstrates that it wasn't a single rogue employee going off the deep end,” Stephen Sheller, the Philadelphia attorney whose office is representing S.K., said of Eli Lilly's decision to discipline eight employees.

Since S.K.'s lawsuit, other consumers in South Florida have said they were targeted by the Prozac sampling campaign. One was Michael Grinstead, 16, of Palm Beach, FL, whose mother has also filed a lawsuit and is being represented by Sheller's office.

According to Sheller, Grinstead's case involved a different set of doctors than the ones from Holy Cross Hospital involved in S.K.'s case. The attorney said he is uncertain at this time exactly how many doctors were involved in mailing the unsolicited samples.

“We're going to get to the bottom of what those doctors were offered to get them to do this,” Sheller said.

Eli Lilly has acknowledged the Grinstead case and issued an apology to consumers who received the unsolicited samples.

According to Eli Lilly, the incident was limited to South Florida and has not been reported anywhere else. Sheller said that several other consumers who claim to have received unsolicited Prozac samples have approached his office about legal action, though he declined to say how many at this time.

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