As many as 300 consumers in South Florida may have received unsolicited samples of Prozac by mail, according to a lawyer representing two consumers who have filed lawsuits against drug maker Eli Lilly and others over the samples.
Attorney Gary M. Farmer Jr. said he has identified two medical groups, Holy Cross Hospital, Fort Lauderdale, FL; and Western Communities Family Practice Inc., West Palm Beach, FL; that sent letters containing samples of Prozac, obtained from the pharmacy Walgreens, to 150 consumers each in the region.
Though he declined to reveal his sources, Farmer said he thinks the practice of sending unsolicited drug samples extends beyond Florida, possibly to some Western states, and has gone unnoticed for some time. The issue is coming to light now because people are realizing they can take legal action against such marketing practices, he said.
“Everyone I talk to all feel upset about getting these packages,” he said. “But they don't know where to turn to.”
Though current laws prohibit sending unsolicited drug samples through the mail, several agencies and statutes regulate marketers, drug makers, pharmacies and doctors, making it difficult for government watchdogs to unify their efforts in stopping such a practice, Farmer said. The Prozac sampling case might spur Florida lawmakers to propose more restrictive drug marketing laws in the next legislative session, he speculated.
Federal lawmakers were moving even before the Florida Prozac case to rein in drug marketers. The Drug Company Gift Disclosure Act, sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, was introduced barely more than a week before reports of unsolicited samples in Florida surfaced. The bill would require drug companies to make annual disclosures about all gifts of more than $50 in value they give to health providers.
Farmer represents a Fort Lauderdale woman going by the initials S.K. in court documents and a 16-year-old boy, Michael Grinsted from West Palm Beach. Both have sued Eli Lilly, Walgreens and the medical groups and doctors involved in the mailings.
S.K. received a sample along with a letter signed by three doctors and a physician's assistant from a medical group operated by Holy Cross Hospital, according to the lawsuit. The teen-ager received a sample with a letter signed by Dr. Jeff Bishop, president of Western Communities Family Practice.
Though Western Communities had treated Grinsted in the past, he had never been treated for depression or taken antidepressants, Farmer said.
Eli Lilly has apologized for the unsolicited samples, calling them an isolated incident, and disciplined several employees for their part in the incidents.