In the last two years, federal regulators announced that seniors with dementia who are given Zyprexa could die from taking the drug. Zyprexa was not approved for use in seniors with dementia, but that allegedly did not stop Eli Lilly from marketing the drug for such use. Even after the announcement about the risk, one quarter of seniors still take Zyprexa, Risperdal or Seroquel (about which a similar warning was given). In fact, sales of these drugs totaled $13 billion in revenues this year. Sales of Zyprexa to patients over age 64 accounted for more than 26 percent of the medication's total prescriptions.
In February 2007, Dr. David Graham, a frequent critic of high-risk drugs, spoke before a congressional panel. In his testimony he argued that Zyprexa and other antipsychotic medications caused the deaths of around 15,000 nursing home residents every year. Yet seniors are still prescribed Zyprexa to treat their dementia.
It is not illegal to prescribe drugs for off-label uses. However, marketing drugs for unapproved uses is illegal. According to the [St. Petersburg Times,] Eli Lilly allegedly created a 280-person "long-term care" sales force, designed to focus on senior citizens. Furthermore, internal Eli Lilly documents referred to nursing homes as an "opportunistic market." The company even encouraged sales representatives to use an imaginary patient, named "Martha" to increase sales. Martha is described as a widow who lives alone. She suffers from confusion, inability to sleep and agitation. She is also described as an ideal candidate for Zyprexa even though she is a senior and may suffer from dementia.
Zyprexa (known generically as olanzapine) now has a black box warning alerting consumers to the risk of death in seniors with dementia. The FDA found that elderly dementia patients who took atypical antipsychotics (including Zyprexa) have a rate of death 1.6 to 1.7 times greater than those who took a placebo.
Meanwhile, many adults and teenagers who take Zyprexa are at an increased risk of suicidal acts compared with patients who take other drugs. According to five clinical trials conducted by Eli Lilly, of 2,500 patients in the trials, 12 committed suicide. However, that number only reflects how many people actually committed suicide, not how many people attempted to commit suicide or expressed suicidal wishes. At least one Eli Lilly critic, Dr. David Healy, believes Eli Lilly is suppressing information about the risk of suicidal tendencies in patients who take Zyprexa.
Zyprexa has also been linked to akathisia, which is a precursor to suicide and violence. Akathisia is a condition in which patients suffer from an overwhelming feeling of restlessness, leading to a need to constantly be in motion. Many people who have akathisia also suffer from insomnia, panic, anxiety and a feeling of doom.
Zyprexa has also been linked to an increased risk of weight gain, high cholesterol and diabetes. In October 2007, Eli Lilly added strong warnings to the drug, noting that Zyprexa causes high blood sugar more frequently than other atypical antipsychotic medications. According to the new label, patients taking Zyprexa can continue gaining weight for up to two years after they first take the medication. Furthermore, one in six patients taking Zyprexa will gain over 33 pounds during those two years.
READ MORE LEGAL NEWS
According to [The New York Times,] Eli Lilly is still asking the FDA for permission to market Zyprexa for adolescents, even though clinical trials have shown that weight gain and other problems associated with the drug can be more severe in teenagers than adults.
Since 2004, Eli Lilly has spent $1.2 billion settling 28,500 lawsuits from patients who claimed they developed diabetes or heart problems after taking Zyprexa. There are still over one thousand lawsuits that have not yet been settled. That does not include potential lawsuits from people whose loved ones committed suicide while taking Zyprexa.