Eli Lilly Wins First Trial Over Antidepressant ‘Brain Zaps’

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Eli Lilly & Co. isn’t liable for withdrawal symptoms including so-called brain zaps experienced by a woman after she quit the antidepressant Cymbalta, a federal jury said.

Friday’s verdict in Los Angeles may give the drugmaker leverage in fending off more than 5,000 other lawsuits over the drug. The case was the first to go to trial over claims Lilly hid the risks of what the woman’s lawyers called “serious and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms” that include electric shock sensations.

A second trial on similar claims by another former Cymbalta user is scheduled to start next week in the same courthouse. Two more bellwether cases are set for trial this month in Alexandria, Virginia.

Lawyers for Claudia Herrera argued during the trial that Lilly didn’t disclose on the warning label for the medication that 44 percent of users in its own studies suffered discontinuation side effects. Instead, the lawyers argued, Cymbalta’s label initially disclosed that 2 percent or more experienced certain side effects.

Lilly’s lawyers countered during the trial that the 44 percent figure wasn’t relevant to prescribers because, in the same studies, 22 percent of subjects discontinuing a placebo also reported side effects. The label discloses the Cymbalta withdrawal side effects that occurred significantly more frequently than those of people who took a sugar pill, the drugmaker’s lawyers argued.

T. Matthew Leckman, a lawyer for Herrera, declined to comment on the verdict.

Anxiety, Dizziness

Herrera, who used Cymbalta for about six years, testified about feeling desperate in the weeks and months after she stopped taking the drug. She told the jurors she suffered from anxiety, dizziness and insomnia, as well as the electric shock sensations.

“I felt I was going to have a stroke,” Herrera testified, referring to the brain zaps. “I thought I was going to pass out.”

Douglas Jacobs, a psychiatrist who testified as an expert witness for Lilly, told jurors there’s no evidence in the medical literature of withdrawal symptoms lasting for months. Herrera’s symptoms might have been a manifestation of her underlying depression and anxiety disorders, Jacobs testified.

“While Lilly is sympathetic to Ms. Herrera’s conditions, we are pleased with the jury’s verdict,” J. Scott MacGregor, a spokesman for the Indianapolis-based drugmaker, said in a statement.

The case is Herrera v. Eli Lilly and Co., 13-cv-02702, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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