March 28, 2008
By Daniel Barlow
MONTPELIER – As the lawsuits against Eli Lilly over its top-selling anti-schizophrenia drug Zyprexa began piling up in 2006, Vermont's state-run insurance program spent nearly $4 million on the drug, according to documents.
That amount may seem like a drop in the bucket when compared to Zyprexa's 2007 sales of $4.8 billion in the United States, but the payments through Vermont's Medicaid program came at a time when 10 states and upwards of 30,000 people were suing the company over the drug.
Launched in 1996, Zyprexa has become the top-selling medication for drug-maker Eli Lilly. But those sales are dropping as lawsuits and leaked corporate documents reveal a decade-long effort to downplay the side effects, including weight gain and an increased chance of diabetes, in the company's promotion of the drug.
No Zyprexa prescribing psychiatrist in sight - Vermont's fall colors, Photograph by Donald C Landwehrle
Just this week the state of Alaska, population 670,000, settled its lawsuit against Eli Lilly for $15 million over what it claimed were increased Medicaid costs due to health problems associated with taking Zyprexa. That was the first state to settle with the company in the lawsuits.
Vermont is not one of the states now suing Eli Lilly. But on Thursday, the Vermont Association for Mental Health, a Montpelier-based advocacy organization, urged the state to pursue that legal option. Executive Director Ken Libertoff said this case was a "sad commentary" on the influence of the pharmaceutical industry.
While it may not be suing Eli Lilly, Vermont is investigating how the company marketed its drug to doctors and others here, according to Julie Brill, Vermont's assistant attorney general. She said the state subpoenaed marketing materials and internal company documents detailing its marketing plan in January 2007.
Brill said that inquiry is still on-going and she was mum on further details. She said she did not know when more informa-tion on their investigation could be made available to the public.
"We do have an ongoing consumer protection investigation," she said.
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