According to the Indianapolis Star, Eli Lilly’s antipsychotic drug Zyprexia is the target of thousands of legal claims. Lilly is attempting to reassure psychiatrists they do not face higher malpractice risk for prescribing the best selling drug.
“The company has hired a medical education company, Professional Risk Management Services of Virginia, to help spread the message that psychiatrists can manage risk.
The company recently mailed a 14-page brochure to psychiatrists across the U.S. with the message that the best way to avoid malpractice claims is to provide good care and document it carefully.
The program includes a 21-minute online slide show. The program does not mention Zyprexa or other drugs by name.
Lilly acknowledged Friday that some psychiatrists are concerned about being dragged into lawsuits.
“Psychiatrists have an increasing level of anxiety about malpractice and medication prescribing, and a lot of this is heightened by all the plaintiffs’ lawyers running everywhere,” said Lilly spokeswoman Marni Lemons.
The drug maker has paid more than $1 billion to settle tens of thousands of patient claims that it hid or downplayed the side effects of Zyprexa. Many patients said the drug gave them diabetes symptoms, including weight gain and higher blood sugar levels. Lilly has steadfastly denied that, despite agreeing to several rounds of settlements.
Lemons declined to say how much Lilly spent to hire the medical education company.
Lilly faces lawsuits from several states, including Alaska, Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia, that seek to recoup Medicaid money spent caring for Zyprexa patients.
The antipsychotic is Lilly’s top-selling drug, generating $4.2 billion in sales last year. But sales growth has been slowing, and Lilly executives told analysts this week that the company’s dependence on Zyprexa will diminish gradually as other products grow faster.
Lilly and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare announced in June the results of a survey of 400 psychiatrists. The survey showed that more than half had patients who stopped taking antipsychotic medication or reduced their dosages based on fears raised by law firm advertising.
Lemons said initial feedback from psychiatrists who have participated in the program has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
But not all psychiatrists are sold. Dr. Daniel Carlat, a Massachusetts psychiatrist, criticized the program on his blog this week as “one of the more devious drug marketing campaigns in recent memory.”
“No psychiatrist who sees this is foolish or naive enough not to realize that the reason Lilly is doing this is because they’re having serious trouble with Zyprexa,” he said in an interview. “It’s obvious Lilly is just trying to do some damage control.”