John Eric Kauffman was recently found dead in his apartment near Atlanta, Georgia. The 41-year-old man had struggled with severe bipolar disorder and its accompanying psychotic episodes for most of his adult life, and at the time of his death was taking Zyprexa for his condition. At the time of his death, he also had severe heart disease and was eighty pounds heavier than he had been just five years earlier when he began taking the medication.
Kaufman’s story of sudden weight gain and deadly heart disease is not an unusual one for a shockingly high percentage of people who take Zyprexa to help them manage bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Indeed, clinical trials suggest that at least 16 percent of the two million people who took Zyprexa in the last year will have gained at least 66 pounds within a year. While a bit of weight gain may be a more-than-welcome price to pay for mental health, Zyprexa’s side effects cost far more than a new self image. The drug has long been known by its manufacturer, Eli Lilly, to increase cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well-factors known to contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and possibly death.
Over the past decade, Eli Lilly is believed by many to suppress what it has known about the dangers of its best-selling product. Recently exposed company e-mails, marketing materials, sales projections, and scientific reports all reveal the lengths to which Eli Lilly has gone to prevent information about Zyprexa’s connection to diabetes and obesity from hurting sales. But the problems associated with this drug, which representatives have been told to promote as a “safe, gentle psychotropic,” have become too pervasive to ignore any longer. The $700 million Eli Lilly spent last year to settle 8,000 lawsuits for people like Kauffman who had developed diabetes or other diseases after taking Zyprexa. is beginning to take its toll on the company and tarnish the reputation of the drug.
Kauffman’s early death is a reminder of the importance of discussing with our doctors the risks associated with prescription medications. It also reminds us that, if a drug manufacturer is determined enough to hide the truth, doctors may not even be aware of the dangers associated with particular prescriptions. In those cases, it is up to us to uncover the truth and hold companies responsible for their deception. We will continue to make that possible for you and your loved ones.